Can violence in the Bible be explained away as symbolic myth, instead of history?


#1

I ask because I was watching youtube (it really has replaced my television), and was watching some of Fr. Barron's videos:

Violence in the Bible
youtube.com/watch?v=1A65Wfr2is0

Additional Commentary
youtube.com/watch?v=N7y5lTBIGsU

Now, I realize I'm just an average guy reading the Bible, but what he says sounds like kind of a stretch to me, when Fr. Barron states things like the various people the Israelites killed down to a man are merely poetic, "symbolic" expressions of the purification of sin, or to emphasize a military victory by a poet, not meant to be taken literally.

Now, while I can understand a book such as Genesis using mythological language, it seems like a real stretch to carry that to his later examples, that seem pretty clear to me the Israelites were ordered to kill every man, woman, child, baby and their animals, or Samuel hacking a king to bits with a sword.

Maybe someone could provide some insight on Fr. Barron's words?


#2

We should always interpret the bible like it always has been interpreted since Jesus. As the apostles, church fathers, saints... interpreted it. Trying to bend and adjust and explain away the bible brings you into heresy because you start to pick and choose how you want it to have. Of course some parts are just symbols but I cannot remember any example where this was the traditional interpretation.
But I know that the dead of the Egyptian in the split water(Ex 14) or the dead of the first born Egyptian in (Ex 11) have always been interpreted as actual history and so cannot be explained away.

You can always claim that something is symbolic, you can claim that the resurrection of Jesus is only symbolic. This is not good.


#3

The ancient world was very much a brutal place. This is what made Christ's Gospel such a radical change.

I think that Father Barron is correct that the mass violence in the Old Testament was somewhat exaggerated for effect.


#4

I think the violence in the Bible, especially the Old Testament, represents a certain developmental point in our coming to understand God and religion (our relationship with God). As Divine Revelation slowly occurred in time, people sought to place God in their struggles, either to justify their cause or to ensure victory. I'm certain much of the OT violence was real, since a propensity toward violence is part of our fallen nature. Has this mindset changed, all that much? Today, soldiers still march into battle "For God and country", and some folks invoke Divine intersession for determining the outcome of football games! As our faith matures, many come to see the violent passages in the Bible as a lesson for our own interior struggle against evil.


#5

Enjoy: The Dark Passages of Scripture


#6

The sad truth is that violence has been a part in human history probably since the beginning.
Did not Cain slain Abel?

A brother killed because of gelousy.
If you care to read ancient history you will see that the Bible is not the only place where violence is portrayed.
The difference though is that throughout the history of the Israelite people, God is steering them more and more away from it.
And Jesus is the culmination of this.

My question would be, do you think that you can turn someone away from violence in 1 lifetime?
Knowing what we see that even today so many people still turn to violence as the answer?

--


#7

This may seem a bit strange, but I believe the Scriptures were authored by God Himself (through men, of course), and as such, they are true and accurate in what they tell us. Would anyone deny that God would have been justified in killing Adam and Eve the moment they ate the forbidden fruit? Of course He would have! Would God be justified in killing anyone the moment they sin? Of course He would! The point here is that God used Israel to execute judgment against these people (just as He used the Assyrians to execute Judgment against Israel, and Babylon against Judah). To be sure, there are lessons to be learned from these accounts, but don't turn the actual events into allegory just to salve your conscience. Take a close look at Revelation and see how many people are killed in the judgments that God sends upon the Earth, and explain how a "god of love" could do such a thing. God is a God of love, but He is also a God who judges all of us, and will not allow the ungodly to go unpunished!


#8

[quote="Cachonga, post:7, topic:342989"]
This may seem a bit strange, but I believe the Scriptures were authored by God Himself (through men, of course), and as such, they are true and accurate in what they tell us. Would anyone deny that God would have been justified in killing Adam and Eve the moment they ate the forbidden fruit? Of course He would have! Would God be justified in killing anyone the moment they sin? Of course He would! The point here is that God used Israel to execute judgment against these people (just as He used the Assyrians to execute Judgment against Israel, and Babylon against Judah). To be sure, there are lessons to be learned from these accounts, but don't turn the actual events into allegory just to salve your conscience. Take a close look at Revelation and see how many people are killed in the judgments that God sends upon the Earth, and explain how a "god of love" could do such a thing. God is a God of love, but He is also a God who judges all of us, and will not allow the ungodly to go unpunished!

[/quote]

I agree. We need to be careful on what 'we' decide is fact or allegory. It's a slippery slope. I'm reminded of these words in Proverbs

Proverbs 30:5-6

New International Version (NIV)

5 “Every word of God is flawless;
he is a shield to those who take refuge in him.
6 Do not add to his words,
or he will rebuke you and prove you a liar.


#9

[quote="PaulfromIowa, post:3, topic:342989"]
The ancient world was very much a brutal place. This is what made Christ's Gospel such a radical change.

I think that Father Barron is correct that the mass violence in the Old Testament was somewhat exaggerated for effect.

[/quote]

Except.....

It says in the Bible that the Lord said to Moses, to smash infants on rocks and to keep the enemies wife as his own, etc.

So what Jesus said later contradicts what the Lord says in the OT. Which do we go by and why a preference for one over the other?

Why would God command to slay our enemies and take their wives and then come back and say love your enemies and any man who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery etc?


#10

[quote="Cachonga, post:7, topic:342989"]
This may seem a bit strange, but I believe the Scriptures were authored by God Himself (through men, of course), and as such, they are true and accurate in what they tell us. Would anyone deny that God would have been justified in killing Adam and Eve the moment they ate the forbidden fruit? Of course He would have! Would God be justified in killing anyone the moment they sin? Of course He would! The point here is that God used Israel to execute judgment against these people (just as He used the Assyrians to execute Judgment against Israel, and Babylon against Judah). To be sure, there are lessons to be learned from these accounts, but don't turn the actual events into allegory just to salve your conscience. Take a close look at Revelation and see how many people are killed in the judgments that God sends upon the Earth, and explain how a "god of love" could do such a thing. God is a God of love, but He is also a God who judges all of us, and will not allow the ungodly to go unpunished!

[/quote]

God has taken life on His own, since He is the author of it. Why would He need mere men to execute the taking of life?

What is there to differentiate between a mentally disturbed person claiming that God has commanded them to kill someone?


#11

By in large, the world today is still rather brutal, filled w/violence and bloodshed...


#12

Yahweh is a God of Wrath, whether people want to believe it or not. It's as simple as that.

I think David Beirlinski summed it up perfectly in this interview:

youtube.com/watch?v=FyxUwaq00Rc

Starts around the 27:00 mark.


#13

Uh, because God SAID He used nations in this way! God can use men to fulfill His purposes, can't He?

What is there to differentiate between a mentally disturbed person claiming that God has commanded them to kill someone?

God has given authority to the state to carry out executions and wage war. While this authority was granted to individuals at times (for example, when Samuel executed Agag (1 Sam 15)), this has not been carried over into the NT. Anyone today that would claim that God has commanded them to kill someone is in need of some serious counselling (and maybe even a padded cell, unless they're an executioner for the state, and only carry out approved executions).

It says in the Bible that the Lord said to Moses, to smash infants on rocks and to keep the enemies wife as his own, etc.

Where does it say this?


#14

You should differentiate between the Old Testament and the New Testament. They are written in very different styles, first off.

Secondly, the OT is an anthology. It is written in a variety of literary styles, suitable to the subject matter and the audience. It is all true, but the truth is sometimes told in a parabolic fashion, and some issues were told through the optic of people at a particular place and a particular time and a particular understanding.

The books describing the battles and violence dealt by the Israelites are national epics, and contain the over-the-top battle descriptions. They are clearly meant to be read in the genre of ancient battle epics, as the people who are described as being wiped out completely return to bedevil the Israelites and lead them astray.

Other books in the Old Testament are lyric love poetry, sober genealogy, treatises on the law, prophetic vision (which often does employ tropes of symbolism, the meanings of which were clearly understood by the people of the time.)

I don't think the terms "symbolic" or "mythic" are always appropriate descriptions. I would say rather "lyrical" - some of the books are written in a florid manner that people of the time would understand. The books describing some of the more violent images should be understood in that context.

They are also expressions of the entire panoply of human emotions - high devotion, passionate love, but also anger, rage, bitterness - emotions to which the Israelites were perhaps entitled by their subjugation and slavery. The "Cursing" Psalms need to be read with this in mind.


#15

[quote="Cachonga, post:13, topic:342989"]
Uh, because God SAID He used nations in this way! God can use men to fulfill His purposes, can't He?

God has given authority to the state to carry out executions and wage war. While this authority was granted to individuals at times (for example, when Samuel executed Agag (1 Sam 15)), this has not been carried over into the NT. Anyone today that would claim that God has commanded them to kill someone is in need of some serious counselling (and maybe even a padded cell, unless they're an executioner for the state, and only carry out approved executions).

Where does it say this?

[/quote]

Sure God uses men to fulfill His purposes, but why to fulfill killing and adultery and infanticide? Gd Has taken life numerous times on His own where there is no doubt it is God, so why He then would need men randomly to start to do what He's always done is kind of odd.

Why did this not carry over to the NT? The laws and commands of God are eternal and God doesnt change. The OT God is still the same God in the NT.

Thing is, who are you to say who's in need of a padded cell? Keep in mind all of the prophets who were called crazy and were persecuted when God privately revealed His mission for them to carry out. How do we know a mentally disturbed person who has been given a mission by God is not a modern day prophet, being called crazy and persecuted?

I'll find where it says that in scripture later, posting on my phone.

Thanks.


#16

You're argument is with God (a dangerous thing in light of your nick). He tells us in His word that He was doing this (using men). Doesn't God have the right to do what He wants with His creation?

Why did this not carry over to the NT? The laws and commands of God are eternal and God doesn't change. The OT God is still the same God in the NT.

Who says He isn't doing this anymore? You don't think God used Hitler to bring Israel back as a nation?

Thing is, who are you to say who's in need of a padded cell? Keep in mind all of the prophets who were called crazy and were persecuted when God privately revealed His mission for them to carry out. How do we know a mentally disturbed person who has been given a mission by God is not a modern day prophet, being called crazy and persecuted?

That's not "the thing". God tells us to test the spirits. We don't stone false prophets anymore, but we certainly don't have to listen to them. Furthermore, if they seem to pose a danger to others, we (as a society) would have a duty and an obligation to get such a person off the street. Sadly, the world is becoming more corrupt, which means Christians in general could be considered "crazy" and in need of being put away, but that's a separate thread.

I'll find where it says that in scripture later, posting on my phone.

I look forward to seeing this!


#17

the jews lived in slavery in egypt and babylon
there is no way they weren't influenced by they're captors
the strategic location of that area they were fighting for precipitated that they must kill who
opposed them. there was no one god for the israelites until they lived in egypt. funny, the pharoah at that time had adopted a one god theology, coincidence? you live in a dream world. there is and never will be a valid reason to kill unless your very existence is being threatened.
but what if you walk into a world where are others are living and the land they are in, you think is yours because god said so. does that give you the right to annihilate them; man, woman and child? this is not a holy people. this is a greedy people. that is why they went down


#18

[quote="minion, post:1, topic:342989"]
I ask because I was watching youtube (it really has replaced my television), and was watching some of Fr. Barron's videos:

Violence in the Bible
youtube.com/watch?v=1A65Wfr2is0

Additional Commentary
youtube.com/watch?v=N7y5lTBIGsU

Now, I realize I'm just an average guy reading the Bible, but what he says sounds like kind of a stretch to me, when Fr. Barron states things like the various people the Israelites killed down to a man are merely poetic, "symbolic" expressions of the purification of sin, or to emphasize a military victory by a poet, not meant to be taken literally.

Now, while I can understand a book such as Genesis using mythological language, it seems like a real stretch to carry that to his later examples, that seem pretty clear to me the Israelites were ordered to kill every man, woman, child, baby and their animals, or Samuel hacking a king to bits with a sword.

Maybe someone could provide some insight on Fr. Barron's words?

[/quote]

Maybe you can provide a more specific criticism other than just saying that "it seems like a real stretch."

Frank Spina, a Biblical studies professor at Seattle Pacific University (just to be clear, he's Episcopalian, not Catholic), argued in a talk I heard him give that we misread Joshua in seeing it as an account of holy war. He points out that the Israelites' "military tactics" are based in trust in God and do not look like normal military tactics at all, and that a lot of emphasis is placed on stories of people who "should" have been killed not being killed (Rahab and the Gibeonites) as well as on the story of Achan, a member of the chosen people who is wiped out together with his whole family because of his sin. Prof. Spina argues that the whole book should not be taken as a historical account but as a theological account of God's sovereignty and mercy in drawing "outsiders" into the people of God while casting out "insiders" who are unfaithful. In other words, the main "takeaway" from Joshua should not be "let's go kill those who are not like us" or even (as is more commonly the Christian attitude) "In the OT God wanted people to do this to preserve purity, but now we have a better way," but rather "in the OT, just as in the NT, God has this unsettling habit of blurring even lines that He Himself seems to have established."

At least that's my understanding of his idea--I only know it from one talk I heard him give and a brief conversation afterwards.

Maybe this is a "stretch" too--probably more so than Fr. Barron's interpretation in fact--but all such interpretations need to be examined on their merits rather than simple dismissed because they aren't what you are used to.

Edwin


#19

[quote="Cachonga, post:16, topic:342989"]
You're argument is with God (a dangerous thing in light of your nick). He tells us in His word that He was doing this (using men). Doesn't God have the right to do what He wants with His creation?

Who says He isn't doing this anymore? You don't think God used Hitler to bring Israel back as a nation?

That's not "the thing". God tells us to test the spirits. We don't stone false prophets anymore, but we certainly don't have to listen to them. Furthermore, if they seem to pose a danger to others, we (as a society) would have a duty and an obligation to get such a person off the street. Sadly, the world is becoming more corrupt, which means Christians in general could be considered "crazy" and in need of being put away, but that's a separate thread.

I look forward to seeing this!

[/quote]

I am not arguing with God, I have questions and I cannot imagine a Being that is goodness and love itself commanding such brutality.

I dont think God used Hitler, it was a matter of Hitlers free will and God simply did not intercene. In fact God cannot use people for evil so that good might come of it; the ends dont justify the means! Not to mention God desires that ALL souls are saved, even Hitlers.

Modern day prophets and their fruits... Well the genuine prophets of the OT were seen as dangerous too, which is why they were persecuted. Even if something a mentally disturbed "modern day prophet" were to say bizarre things today doesnt negate their authenticity on their own maybe? God commanded brutality and that seems very bizarre, by that fruit I would not imagine that to be God, but apparently it was. How then can we test the spirits when they seem similar, either as angels of light or a wrathful God? We can never be sure.


#20

I have to believe, only, you are blurred by books written by men. Its already been proven at the council of nicea the bishops destroyed so many things, so much , how are were we better than the romans, and who set fire to the library at alexandria? Really, people destroy what they fear and don't understand, and they destroyed a lot. You are blurred. This planet is 4 billion years old. Are you going to excommunicate me? Yeah, anyone who doesn't agree with you must be burned. Sound familiar? The world is round , i must have a demon.
I was an altar boy when the mass was still in latin. I am not a heretic.
There comes a time when even ,even every person must, just trust in the last thoughts before you fall asleep. That we are not animals, that is a greater purpose for us and that we have courage and wisdom to fulfill it


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