Violence In The New Testament
- Editor: Shelly Matthews, E. Leigh Gibson
- Pub. Year: 2005
- Language: English
- Pages: 174
- ISBN-10: 0567025004
- ISBN-13: 9780567025005
- Format: PDF*
- Price: $39.95
While much work has been done on the role of Jews in the crucifixion of Jesus in post-Holocaust biblical scholarship, the question of violence in subsequent community formation remains largely unexamined. New Testament passages suggesting that early Christ-believers were violently persecuted—the “stone throwing” passages from John, the “persecuted from town to town” passages in Matthew, the stoning of Stephen in Acts, Paul’s hardship catalogue in II Corinthians, etcetera—are frequently read positivistically as windows onto first-century persecution; at the other extreme, they are sometimes dismissed as completely ahistorical. In either case, scholars up until now have provided little in the way of methodological reflection on how they have reached such conclusions.
A further problematic issue in previous readings of passages suggesting such violence is that the perpetrators of violence are frequently cast as “Jews” while the violated are cast as “Christians,” in spite of the growing consensus that it is impossible to tease out these two distinct and separate religious identities, Jew and Christian, from first century texts. This volume takes up crucial methodological questions about how to read passages suggesting violence among Jews in texts that eventually became part of the New Testament canon. It situates this intra-religious violence within the violence of the Roman Imperial order. It provides new readings of these texts that move beyond the “Jew as violator” / “Christian as violated” binary.
Contributors to the book include Warren Carter, David Frankfurter, John G. Gager, E. Leigh Gigson, Richard A. Horsley, Melanie Johnson-DeBaufre, John W. Marshall, Shelly Matthews, and Adele Reinhartz.
About the Author
Shelly Matthews is Assistant Professor of Religion at Furman University. E. Leigh Gibson is an independent scholar based in Princeton, New Jersey, who has taught at Oberlin College and Rutgers University
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Matthews, Shelly, and E. Leigh Gibson, eds.
Violence in the New Testament
London: T&T Clark, 2005. Pp. 160. Paper. $34.95.
Westcott, Gloucestershire University
Cambridge, U.K. CB1 9XT
I welcome the essays in this volume and particularly the motivations underlying this book. As the authors point out, in spite of the efforts of New Testament scholars to challenge Christian presuppositions that Jews were responsible for Jesus. death, the fact remains that there is an increase in the number of those who blame Jews for the death of Jesus. This volume is motivated by the need to respond to this dangerous increase. The studies arise out of Society of Biblical Literature special session on violence among Jews and Christians. They consider the writings of Paul, the Q document, the historical Jesus, the Gospels of Matthew and John, the book of Acts, and the book of Revelation. Many of the essays use instructively postcolonial theory in interpreting the New Testament texts. Yet it would be helpful to consider to what extent we can use experiences of the victims of European colonialism to elucidate understanding Jewish identity in the first century C.E. Scholars, particularly those who have argued that Diaspora Jews did have a sense of being exiled, surely challenge the underlying postcolonial critical basis of the essays in this volume.
The writers observe the neglect in examining violence in the New Testament in contrast to the considerable treatment of violence in the Hebrew Bible. The underlying reason for this disparity of treatment is that the . .real. problem lies in the .Jewish texts., not in the Christian Treatment. (2). Further, and more significantly for the authors, the imbalance of treatment of violence between the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament is that the latter is viewed as .the antidote for Old Testament violence. (3). These insights are very important. However, to imply, as the authors do, that Girard, for example, is part of the problem seems unfair. Girard and his students emphasize the importance of the Hebrew Bible in its concern with the oppressed and the victim. It is odd to hint that Girard.s mimetic theory might incite Christians to scapegoat Jews for the death of Jesus. Surely this is to ignore Girard.s whole thesis, namely, that Jesus. death reveals the single victim mechanism at the heart of society.
Gager with Leigh Gibson considers violent acts and language in Paul. They argue that Paul.s violence is not to be connected with his Jewish identity but rather with the cross. It is the cross that Paul is drawn to because he was psychologically attracted to the need to suffer and to boost his sense of zeal. There is no argument or evidence cited to support this view. I am not persuaded by the argument. Surely Paul believed that in suffering he would be able to reveal to his oppressor their violence (Rom 12:14.21). Also, we should we not see Paul.s attraction to the cross as one with Paul.s reading of his Jewish texts.
Paul would not have had to read far into the Psalms, for example, to note the connection between innocent suffering and the hope of God.s judgment on the oppressor. Johnson-DeBaurfre elucidates early Jesus traditions, especially Q. She observes the tendency of the colonized to take blame for their own suffering, noting how colonized peoples take responsibility for their own history. Persecuted religious communities tend not to blame the colonizer but assume that the colonizer is the divine agent inflicting suffering upon the people for their lack of obedience to divine will. Johnson-DeBaurfre writes: .Perhaps it was the experience of communal suffering at the hands of Roman imperial occupation that burned at the heart of Q.s theologizing about communal blame..
The conclusion therefore reached in this essay is that the Jews are not the cause of the death of Jesus, but the oppressing colonial power of Rome. Marshall considers the so-called violence between Christians and Jews in the book of Revelation. He shows that the conflict between John.s Jesus and the synagogue of Satan (2:9) and Jezebel (2:20) is an internal struggle, not a conflict between two separate groups. Further, he adds that it is conflict within a colonized group. This struggle occurs in an environment where the colonized group is dealing with what it means to be Jewish in an exiled situation. There are not many who would argue against Marshall.s intra- Jewish debate, even those who do not use postcolonial approaches. But the postcolonial approach elucidates the nature of being exiled and the way in which internal conflict is incited by that very situation of being colonized.
Horsley examines the presentation of Jesus in Mark and Q within the spectrum of Jewish resistance movements. He pursues this study by considering (1) Jesus. exorcisms in the context of him being a resistance fighter; (2) Jesus. demand to love one.s neighbor not as a call to accept the colonized state but terms of Jewish resistance to Rome; and (3) Jesus. expectation of God.s violent judgment against the rulers. Horsley.s examination of the exorcism, particularly Mark 5:1.20 is not particularly new and still raises to what extent the exegete is reading more into the text than there is. It would be particularly interesting to see if similar conclusions can be reached in Paul.s exorcism in Acts 19:11.20.
Carter examines the violence in Matthew.s Gospel by observing that the main agents of violence in Matthew are the elite classes consisting of an alliance of Gentiles and Jews. Carter also considers the presence and function of God.s violence, concluding that the violence, on the one hand, vindicates God.s suffering righteous but, on the other, delegitimizes .the present world as ordered by the socio-political-religious leaders of Rome and Jerusalem. (101). Carter.s discussion is stimulating and to the point. It helpfully locates the origin of violence in terms of class and status in contrast to ethnicity.
I am struck by Carter.s final comments that .Matthew.s gospel finally, but ironically, capitulates to and imitates the imperial violence from which it seeks to save. (102). Surely this is to read a twenty-first-century mindset into this Jewish text that is indebted to the Hebrew Scriptures. The eschatological violence of God is central to the idea of how justice is executed, and this is particularly seen in Matt 25:41. Yet for the ancient Jewish writer the distinction between the violence God implements and the violence oppressors bring upon themselves is synonymous. This is particularly evident in Ps 7, in which we see God preparing his weapons of war (7:12.13), then the oppressors falling by their own violence (7:15.16).
Reinhartz considers John.s Gospel in the light that .it has supplied one of the most persistence anti-Semitic images of all time: the Jew as the devil. (109). Reinhartz is rightly critical of the view that a Johannine community suffered at the hands of Jews. However, her alternative view is unfortunately not really developed when she argues that the Johannine Christians .were likely profoundly disappointed at the overall lack of acceptance of their message among the Jews to whom the Gospel was first preached. (121). Consequently, the Christians proclaimed Jews. exclusion from God.s covenant and their eventual destruction.
Shelley Matthews challenges the scholarly consensus that the martyrdom of Stephen is historical. I find some of the arguments of this essay interesting but not convincing. Matthews argues that, if Stephen had been martyred, it would be variously attested in the New Testament, particularly in Paul. This questions Luke.s reasons for writing to give an account of the early church. Further, why should we expect Paul to mention Stephen? He did not really know Stephen, and his writings were primarily concerned with people he knew and certainly were living. Matthews believes that Stephen.s martyrdom was created out of Luke.s need to legitimize the Christian communities in the eyes of the Romans. This may be in part true, but it does rather put Luke.s concern for writing above that of giving an account of the early church if the whole martyrdom narrative is a fabrication.
In conclusion, this collection of essays is an invaluable addition to New Testament studies that should stimulate much discussion. It raises key issues relating to the violent language of the New Testament and, one hopes, will fuel much research in this vital area and facilitate a mutual consideration of the New Testament from the perspectives of Jewish and Christian scholars alike.
Citation: Mark Bredin, review of Shelly Matthews And E. Leigh Gibson, eds., Violence in the New Testament, Review of Biblical Literature [http://www.bookreviews.org] (2006).