Peaceful warrior

Nov 20, 2017 by

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In Yahweh Is a Warrior: The Theology of Warfare in Ancient Israel (Herald Press, 1980), Millard C. Lind refutes Charlie Kraybill (“Yahweh Has Always Been a Peacenik,” Oct. 23). “Yahweh is a warrior” (Ex. 15:3) is among the earliest writings in the Bible, not “a literary character created by the scribes.” Yahweh greatly preceded them.

Lind sees God’s victory over Egypt’s army as the founding event of Israel’s existence. There was no human action or battle. God would fight for them; they only needed to be still (Ex. 14:14). In entering the land, God had promised Abraham that God’s angel would go ahead of them and wipe out the tribes (Ex. 23:23). They only needed to trust and obey God. Had they done that, there would have been no need of judges. God was king.

Summarizing warfare in the patriarchal period, Lind writes, “It should be no surprise that a few traditions of violence are found.” And “most of these traditions are pacifistic.”

Walter Smeltzer
West Peoria, Ill.


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  • Charlie Kraybill

    I am of course familiar with Millard Lind’s book and his thesis, but I have to reject them. I am no more comfortable with the idea that God’s angel wiped out the Canaanites than I am with the idea that God ordered the Israelites to commit genocide against them. I will not and cannot believe in such a God.
    The reason we Mennonites are pacifists is because we believe that Jesus was a pacifist who taught his followers to be nonviolent. And Jesus was a pacifist because he believed that God wanted his people to be nonviolent, in imitation of God’s own nonviolent essence. If God was a pacifist in the time of Jesus, God was certainly a pacifist in the time of the Israelites. We then are in a position where we have to come up with a non-literal way of reading and understanding the conquest/genocide stories.
    Fortunately, modern science helps us out here. Thanks to modern archaeology, we know that the so-called “conquest of Canaan” did not happen as described in the Bible. This is not liberal skepticism, it’s scientific fact. As Bible scholar Richard Elliott Friedman puts it in his new book “The Exodus” (HarperOne, 2017): “Archaeological evidence indicates that no arrival of conquering masses ever took place. The destruction layers are just not there on the sites. The archaeologists are right: there was no conquest. And thank heavens for that. It is a story of violent destruction, and the Jews have been denigrated for it.” Friedman, of course, is Jewish, and he’s grateful to know that the conquest stories are not history but rather patriotic tales composed centuries later to give the Israelites a glorious narrative about their origins.
    Another Jewish scholar, Nili Wazana, in her article in “The Jewish Study Bible” (Oxford University Press, 2004), calls the book of Joshua “a literary, ideological construct … best read as an ideological manifesto rather than as an attempt at accurate historiography.” This view is the consensus of almost all serious Bible scholars today (with the exception of the fundamentalists, of course).
    As I said in my original article, we pacifists should be thrilled by these archaeological and literary discoveries. It relieves us of the need to come up with strained explanations for why Yahweh endorsed violence in one era and then turned around and endorsed nonviolence in another era. If we believe God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, then we have to affirm an eternally nonviolent God.

    • Berry Friesen

      Thank you for your comment, Charlie. It should be taken very seriously in Anabaptist congregations, which long have opposed the notion that nation-states are major contributors to YHWH’s saving work in the world. That’s because what you describe in your comment shows how from the beginning of the Jewish-Christian story, liars and imposters tried to use the Hebrew state to capture the story of YHWH’s saving work and twist it into a tool of private greed and social/economic oppression.

      In today’s context, we would say “the president’s scribes” accomplished the insertion of “fake news” into the biblical record. (John K. Stoner and I call it “propaganda” in our book, IF NOT EMPIRE, WHAT?) Whatever we call it, it is very contemporary behavior. And it reveals the terrible consequences of Israel’s 400+ year exchange of trust in YHWH for trust in the state. You’re right, Charlie; Anabaptists “should be thrilled” by the opportunity to be liberated from the need to incorporate this oh-so-modern deceit into our theology.

      • Charlie Kraybill

        Are you being sarcastic, Berry? Because I really can’t tell. If you disagree with my points, you should say so directly. And please address the archaeological record as well.

        • Berry Friesen

          yes, I’m sincere. Check out pages 99-102, 185 in the online version of our book (https://liberationtheology.org/library/if-not-empire-what–a-survey-of-the-bible.pdf).

          I don’t think this kind of information “proves” YHWH is a “pacifist,” nor that YHWH is an “universalist”. Those are terms that fit human frames of reference; we get into trouble when we insist YHWH must fit into them. So I probably differ with you there. But you’ve been pointing us in the right direction with regard to the David-Solomon myth, and the conquest-of- Canaan myth too (see pages 89, 119-120).

          • David Bontrager

            How can I believe any of the Holy Bible if parts of it are proven lies? You have just destroyed my faith completely.

          • Berry Friesen

            Pardon me if that’s true, David,but I am skeptical of your assertion. The Bible recounts our apostasy, right? And we find in the First Testament a great deal of text in which the writers jostle for power and prestige in order to dominate, first their kinfolk and then neighboring nations. Well, what does it look like when an apostate people claim to be carrying out this tawdry agenda in the name of YHWH? Look at the 400 years of biblical writings about the era of Israel’s kings and you begin to see clearly how awful that looks. Their words of adoration for YHWH are false and the results horrible.

            So we can (should) see these extended writings as elaborate parables, never fully accurate in their telling, but more importantly conveying an important and spiritually deep lesson about the failures to come when we hijack YHWH for our private, greedy agendas.

            In the Second Testament, Jesus taught all of this straightforwardly.

  • Rainer Moeller

    The common presupposition in these arguments is the idea that the Hebrew Bible has to be seen as authoritative in the same way like the gospels.
    This is not undisputed. Luther and the Lutherans didn’t accept it. Quaker (Hicksite) distrust in “the letter” became more general, but began with a controversy about the book of Josua and its actual application in Ireland. And my impression is that early Anabaptists were at least divided about it. On the other hand, the authority of the Hebrew Bible was taken for granted by Calvinist theologians and in every region where Calvinism was the predominant theology (interestingly also by the non-Calvinist churches).

  • Wilbur H. Entz

    Fortunately, modern science in the form of radiocarbon-14 dating helps us out here. Carbon-14 analysis gives us a date (1410 B.C.) which is quite close to the date that Joshua burnt Jericho – the charcoal from the ruins was analyzed.

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