Friday, September 28, 2012

Old Testament Nonviolence?

Rather than spending my time nailing what my dissertation will finally be about, not to mention actually writing it, I like to think of all the other dissertations that might be worth doing. The latest I've thought of is a dissertation on nonviolence in the Old Testament.

Pacifism as practiced by Christians is by and large seen as flowing out of the New Testament, but can a nonviolent strand be found in the Old Testament? Reading the story of Moses suggests so. Moses is transformed from a violent freedom fighter to a man armed only with the word of Yahweh. If there is a climactic speech in the book of Exodus, it is surely this call to pacifism:

Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.

Israelite nonviolence was grounded on the conviction that their God would fight on their behalf. In fact it is this same conviction that grounds nonviolence in the New Testament, with the definitive place of battle no longer the Red Sea but the cross. It is here that God has fought for his people and shown himself to be victor by dealing with his enemies in a new way.* The Egyptians are no longer excluded, but embraced.

Apparently there is a book on this subject called The Old Testament Roots of Nonviolence, so I may just have to check it out. Ah...distractions.

* Strictly speaking you might not say it's a new way, since God has always been the kind of God who desires to embrace his enemies. The book of Jonah is but one of several Old Testament stories that portrays God as this sort of God.

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