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The Violence of Scripture: Overcoming the Old Testament's Troubling Legacy Paperback – August 1, 2012

4.1 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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"Seibert has waded into the tough and demanding question of violence in the Bible with great courage and sensitivity. He exposits the deep problem of pervasive violence and suggests venturesome ways to counter such terrifying testimony. This book will be an important reference point for the interpretive conversation that we must continue to have." --Walter Brueggemann, Columbia Theological Seminary

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No one can read far in the Hebrew Bible without encountering depictions of violence carried out by human beings, sometimes in the name of God, or indeed violence carried out or commanded by God from Cain's murder of Abel to the slaughter of Canaanite populations and much, much more. For those who read the Bible as sacred scripture, such depictions can pose tremendous moral and theological challenges. For all of us, they pose historical questions as well: Where did these invocations of divinely sanctioned violence come from? How are we to understand them in a world where the lessening of violence is a desperate need?

Eric A. Seibert faces these challenges head-on, offering perspectives on the roles human and divine violence play in different parts of the Old Testament, evaluating the biblical presentation of "virtuous violence," and proposing strategies for reading the Bible out of a commitment to nonviolence. At last he offers "soundings" in biblical texts where we encounter alternative voices, often neglected, that seek and announce ways of peace.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 232 pages
  • Publisher: Fortress Press; 7.2.2012 edition (August 1, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0800698258
  • ISBN-13: 978-0800698256
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.5 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #437,533 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Randal Rauser on December 26, 2012
Format: Paperback
There is a deep cognitive dissonance which must be faced by any thinking Christian and it involves the fact that the Bible contains seemingly contradictory images of God in terms of transcendent love and extreme violence.

We begin with the image of love. Christians follow Jesus in extending a degree of love and forgiveness for the enemy that confounds worldly wisdom. Think, for example, of the bereaved father extending forgiveness to serial killer Gary Ridgway at a victim impact hearing because "God told me to forgive". As inexplicable, even offensive, as such acts may appear, they are ultimately borne out of the words of Jesus who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, who redefined "neighbor" to include our worst enemy, and who embodied this teaching in his very life as he prayed for forgiveness for those who crucified him.

This same book that provides such an exalted image of love and mercy also includes haunting images of violence like God commanding the sacrificial massacre of entire civilian populations (Deuteronomy 20), the slaughter of infants for the sins of their ancestors committed centuries before (1 Samuel 15), and the acquistion of sexual slaves for the Israelite army (Numbers 31).

How can we reconcile the images of love and violence? How can it be that God simultaneously command love, forgiveness and reconcilation even as he ordered genocide, sacrifice and sexual enslavement?

Most Christians are aware of this problem, at least in the general sense that they know it exists. Unfortunately, the norm is to keep the problem at a distance, often by insulating oneself with various rationalizing mechanisms like "God's ways are higher than our ways" and "Humans are sinful so it is a wonder that God saves anyone.
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Format: Paperback
I applaud Eric Seibert on tackling such a tough topic and writing about it in such a gracious and insightful way. By far, the strength of this book is the truth that no matter how we read the violent portions of Scripture, we must not ever read them in a way that allows us to justify our own violence toward others.

The various reading strategies that Seibert proposes in the book go a long way toward helping Christians view others through the lens of Jesus Christ, so that rather than view them as enemies to be killed, we see them as people for whom Jesus died.

However, not everyone will be happy with the way Seibert reads and understands the violent portions of Scripture. His basic approach seems to be that the Bible is only inspired and inerrant in that it contains an inspired and inerrant account of what people "thought" about God, but not an inspired an inerrant account of who God truly is.

He says, "I am convinced it is best to regard the Old Testament's description of God's involvement in war as reflective of how people thought about God in a particular historical context -- rather than as descriptive of what God actually said and did" (p. 118).

Personally, I think this way of reading the text is way better than most of the alternatives, and is way better than the most common way of reading the Bible, which depicts God has a blood-thirsty, murderous tyrant intent on killing babies and committing genocide. This traditional view does not fit with Jesus Christ at all.

But I am not sure that most will be ready to adopt Seibert's view. I don't. I think there is a way of reading the Old Testament in light of Jesus Christ on the cross which allows God to get involved in the violence without making Him the direct cause of it. But this review is not about my view...

Seibert presents a good alternative view which must be considered by all who struggle with the violent portrayals of God in Scripture.
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Suggested book at the end of a retreat and has held my interest. The Old Testament especially is upsetting at times. This author uses the term "virtuous" violence when it seems to be done with God's approval and that leaves it still being violence and how could God condone violence? Eventually the author aims at teaching us how to read the Bible non-violently. Let's see if he can teach me (us).
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This book made me think. Being raised in the C of C causes me to read scripture with an extremely literal perspective. There were a lot of hard things I had to swallow as I read through this book. I plan on reading it a few more times, as my opinions on the stances and arguments within we're quite fluid. At times I agreed, other times I completely disagreed. At the very least, this book has caused me to reevaluate my faith stances and consider how others could interpret the Old Testament.
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Siebert is a Bible teacher at Messiah College. He addresses a way of reading those troubling OT passages that present violence as God’s blessing. In fact he says there are over a thousand references to God ordering, or approving violence in the OT. He calls acts of violence that seem to be endorsed as “virtuous” violence. The act of wiping out the Canaanites he calls genocide. One chapter is devoted to violence toward women. He offers ways to read those troublesome passages with a wholesome twist. He addresses the attitude and action that uses these violent and war acts to support war and violence currently. His last chapter or appendix is “A Brief word about Biblical Authority.”
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