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Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can't Ignore the Bible's Violent Verses Hardcover – October 25, 2011

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Editorial Reviews


“A provocative and timely comparison of the legacies of violence in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. With verve and sweeping insight, Jenkins challenges all of our stereotypical assumptions about religion, bloodshed, and terror.” (Thomas S. Kidd, author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution)

“This book is a wonderful example of the kind of rigorous work Christians must do if they are to retain intellectual credibility.” (Patrick Allitt, The American Conservative)

“Jenkins has outdone himself. This is by far the best piece of work he has ever done, dealing with one of the most controversial issues Christians struggle with day-in and day-out.” (Tony Campolo)

From the Back Cover

Commands to kill, to commit ethnic cleansing, to institutionalize segregation, to hate and fear other races and religions—all are in the Bible, and all occur with a far greater frequency than in the Qur’an. But fanaticism is no more hard-wired in Christianity than it is in Islam. In Laying Down the Sword, “one of America’s best scholars of religion” (The Economist) explores how religions grow past their bloody origins, and delivers a fearless examination of the most violent verses of the Bible and an urgent call to read them anew in pursuit of a richer, more genuine faith.

Christians cannot engage with neighbors and critics of other traditions—nor enjoy the deepest, most mature embodiment of their own faith—until they confront the texts of terror in their heritage. Philip Jenkins identifies the “holy amnesia” that, while allowing scriptural religions to grow and adapt, has demanded a nearly wholesale suppression of the Bible’s most aggressive passages, leaving them dangerously dormant for extremists to revive in times of conflict. Jenkins lays bare the whole Bible, without compromise or apology, and equips us with tools for reading even the most unsettling texts, from the slaughter of the Canaanites to the alarming rhetoric of the book of Revelation.

Laying Down the Sword presents a vital framework for understanding both the Bible and the Qur’an, gives Westerners a credible basis for interaction and dialogue with Islam, and delivers a powerful model for how a faith can grow from terror to mercy.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: HarperOne (October 25, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 006199071X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061990717
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #312,848 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Philip Jenkins is the author of The Lost History of Christianity and has a joint appointment as the Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of the Humanities in history and religious studies at Penn State University and as Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University. He has published articles and op-ed pieces in The Wall Street Journal, The New Republic, The Atlantic Monthly, The Washington Post, and The Boston Globe and has been a guest on top national radio shows across the country.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 55 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on December 22, 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This book is quite eloquently written. At first it may seem that Jenkins is attacking Christianity, but he is not. In fact, he stands up in defense of Christianity several times in the book, especially against Evangelical Atheists who desire to rid the world of religion because they mistakenly believe that religion, and not humans themselves, contain all the negative aspects of culture and society.

But it's Jenkins' thesis that Christians need to understand their religious text in a historical sense that really hits home with me. Research has proven that madrasas (Islamic schools) actually prevent Muslims from becoming terrorists, and I believe that's because of the emphasis of WHY violent verses were revealed. Without the context of what was going on in Mecca/Medina, one is left with a narrative that can be twisted in order to fuel any hate-filled agenda.

And, indeed, the same issues exist in both Christianity and Judaism because this historical context is lacking. Jenkins is not asking for anyone to abandon Christianity or Judaism, nor is he suggesting that either religion is backwards. He is merely stating a simple yet eloquent observation, that without studying and understanding the context behind these verses which seem so foreign to the modern world, regular Christians have no way of stopping extremist Christians. There's no way of explaining to the next McVeigh or Breivik that their understanding of Biblical texts is skewed when the texts are no longer studied.

This book is for anyone who wants to go beyond understanding what extremists believe and wants to stop the cycle before more innocent people (of any faith, race, ethnicity, or nationality) are killed again.
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31 of 35 people found the following review helpful By L. E. Schwenk on January 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is a brave and important book. I wish all my students (Education for Ministry classes) would read it and have recommended it to them. Dr. Jenkins is absolutely right that we must not ignore the violence in scripture and we must take responsibility for how we read them. I wish he had addressed a few more sections, like imprecatory Psalm 109. I expect to lead classes on this book in my church.
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34 of 42 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Wow, a lot of ignorance in the reviews on this one. Jenkins writes solidly and well about the verses in the Bible where God orders murder and genocide. Those verses were used by Oliver Cromwell, Southern racists and the Pilgrims to justify their actions. Those verses are being quoted by Israeli politicians and right wing US preachers in 2012 to justify an attack on Iran. The past isn't dead, it isn't even past. The Phineas priesthood is not something from the ancient past, but something used today to justify murder as God's command. Go to any news index and you will find murders committed by those who think they are a modern day Phineas.

Nor can we hide in the "no true Christian" defense, when these verses surface again and again in history. I suppose you could make the case that several popes, Cromwell and the Puritans were not "real" Christians, but then who is.

Jenkins looks at the Koran and it's troubling texts and how they are used to attack Islam in general. Then he looks at the Bible's troubling texts and how they have been used over the centuries and are still being used to justify violence. He deals with the scandal they cause to believers and the ammunition they give those who oppose religion.

After facing the issues squarely, he then has several suggestions for how to deal with the matter. Ignoring it isn't one of them. Neither is denying it. Excellent book and one to be read slowly and carefully.
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33 of 44 people found the following review helpful By A. Congreve on November 11, 2011
Format: Hardcover
Jenkins is a Christian biblical scholar. In his book, "Laying Down the Sword...", he makes a courageous intellectual argument against making enemys of Muslims based solely on a misconcieved arrogance of moral superiority. How better to make peace with ones neighbors (the Muslims) than to, "remove the beam from your own eye before removing the mote from theirs." Jenkins contends that if Christians and Jews were more familiar with their own texts they "...would not be so confident in denouncing the Qur'an as a militarist manifesto..." He also states, "But in terms of violence and bloodshed, any simplistic claim about the superiority of the Bible to the Qur'an would be wildly wrong..." (p.6). It is this 'simplistic claim' that Jenkins examines and calls to eliminate. I believe that if more Westerners looked at the issue of Judeo-Christian-Islamic relations intelligently (as Jenkins does), and didn't blindly follow the 'clash of civilizations'/'with us or against us' mentality, that there wouldn't be wars in Iraq and Afghanistan today.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Ron Eberhardt on October 3, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Very helpful without being overly academic. Might not want to purchase if you were hoping to prove Islam is more violent than Christianity. As a Christian I was educated and humbled.
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Format: Kindle Edition
"Show them no them no pity." Is that edict found in the Qur'an (Koran) or the Bible? While showing others no mercy or pity obviously contradicts the Golden Rule and loving your neighbor as yourself, those words are from the Old Testament (the Hebrew Bible, Deuteronomy 7:2 and 7:16).

Which holy book did this verse come from? "Happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us -- he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks." The answer is Psalm 137:8-9.

Try one more. Which text is genuine?
a. "Allah is a God of war: Allah is his name."
b. "The Lord is a man of war: the Lord is his name."
The answer is b, which is found in Exodus 15:3.

Ever since 9/11, it has become an article of faith on the political right that Islam is a violent religion. Conservatives cite violent texts from the Qur'an as proof. Christian evangelist Franklin Graham claims that the Qur'an "preaches violence." Conservatives contend that "Islam is, quite simply, a religion of war". Violent texts from the Quir'an were spotlighted during the 2010 debate over building an Islamic Center near New York's Ground Zero.

Unfortunately, it's easy for Christians to spot the speck in someone else's eye while missing the board in our own. The fact is the Bible has its own bloody and violent passages. Professor Philip Jenkins compares the violent passages in the Old Testament to those in the Qur'an. He concludes that one book clearly has more divine approval of violence, including the most extreme violence of extermination, than the other.

Here are some highlights:

* Samson's death killed thousands of Philistines, in what could be considered a suicide attack.
Read more ›
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