Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Too Much Violence

Judges 1-12

This Book has been too violent for me: Wars; fighting; battles. Cutting off thumbs, toes, hands. The ultimate humiliation is that of being killed by women or children. Human sacrifice (Jephthah sacrifices his daughter – his only child – because he had made a vow that if he won a certain battle, he would sacrifice whoever first walked through the doors of his house when he returned victorious from his battle – and it was his daughter (Judges 11:30-40)).

The overarching story of Judges is that the tribes of Israel never quite succeed in total domination: they keep letting conquered people live instead of killing them all or driving them all away. They usually enslave the conquered people instead, and fail to destroy all of their altars. Gradually, Israelites begin to worship some of the other gods. Their own Lord becomes angry and then permits others to conquer them. They live in oppression for a while. But every now and then someone arises to bring the Israelites back to their true God. These special leaders are the “Judges.” God’s favor is shown through their victories against their oppressors. But when each of these Judges dies, the people relapse to the bad behavior of intermingling with the conquered people and worshipping their false gods again. And so the cycle keeps repeating.

What especially strikes me throughout Judges so far are the following themes:

(a) Only total domination could ensure that the people would forever be free of the temptations of worshipping the “wrong” gods. (But why does this remain elusive? Why can the people not quite accomplish this? Why doesn’t God help them to do so?)

(b) There are glimmers that the Israelites in a way accept the other gods. It’s just that they think that their god is the best. (So this isn’t really the monotheism that I expected. The ethic here is that it is best for a people to be loyal to their god, the best god – not that there is in fact only one “true” god.)

(c) Men still have multiple wives, plus concubines. Sometimes it is the sons of concubines and prostitutes who are the heroes. (But do their heroic actions redeem such women in any way? The prejudice against sons of concubines and prostitutes seems to continue unabated throughout long sweeps of time. Yet the reputations of the men who sleep with concubines and prostitutes never seems diminished. Those women are devalued, as are their sons, unless a son should redeem himself by some extraordinary deed—then he can transcend his “unfortunate” background, but only for himself.)

(d) Victory or loss during a time of war is a sign of your god’s favor (or lack thereof). In other words, this is “might makes right” cast in theological clothing. To lose and become oppressed is to be punished for not being loyal enough to one’s god. To win is reward. (These attitudes are still widespread, I am afraid.)

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