Tuesday, June 4, 2013

"Holy War in the Bible" Book review

Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem

Edited by Heath A Thomas, Jeremy Evans and Paul Copan

(2013, Downers Grove, IVP Academic)

From its well thought out introductory chapter, to an elegantly written chapter titled “‘Holy War’ and the New Atheism: A Theological Response,” this is a book which is a necessary addition to the thoughtful theologian, biblical student or studied apologist’s library. For those of us who work with educated non-Christians and troubled lay persons in situations where we are called upon to answer questions about the impact of historical Christianity over the millennia, this is a must read text, and one I know I will look to in the coming years to supplement and inspire future academic papers of my own.

This is a well put together resource regarding the historical use of the term “Holy War”; its roots and real history, the misuse of the term, both historically and in recent years. As well, there are chapters which revisit the hyperbolic ancient Near East war language which is both internal to the Old Testament and external in the archaeological records from the cultures who surrounded the ancient Israelite nation. This book contains chapters which set the record straight on origins of the term “holy war,” and examine the inter-biblical record for signs of actual genocide. Its authors re-examine the concept of “just war” and in contrast, pacifism within the kingdom of God or later “Christendom” in the Holy Roman Empire.

 This is not a gathering of authors all of one mind; you will find a variety of thought within this text which showcase the depth of thinking on a range of topics including the question of use of the book of Joshua to inspire crusaders, to the early church fathers stance on Christians and military service prior to Constantine’s rule, and later protests against misuse of Papal power prior to and during the reformation.

In addition, there is a well crafted chapter of New Testament uses of divine warfare language in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, which highlights the counter cultural teaching within Paul’s epistle. There is a chapter which looks at the violent imagery within the book of Revelation as theodicy to encourage suffering Christians during a time of intense persecution, reminding them of the hope of God’s redeeming justice. Returning to the Old Testament is a look at both positive witness of “holy war” and a negative portrayal of God’s dealings with his own people, which contain, in the author’s words, a “logic of hope,” represented in the prayer of the book of Lamentations. (see page 83)

 This was an informative read, and expanded my knowledge of the scholarship surrounding the book of Joshua, and reminded me of the pacifist origins of Christianity, and which enlightened me of the use of the apocryphal books of Maccabees as main texts for sermons to encourage and promote “crusade” in the middle-ages. Looking over the book, I see many underlines and margin notes I made while reading this text, which shows my engagement with each author’s writing.

 I would recommend this book for someone who has some background in apologetics, biblical history, and as a supplement to understanding the crusades and early church history. This is, as well, a resource for understanding the biblical record of the conquest of the land of the Canaanites, and the hyperbolic war language common to the ancient Near East.

My congratulations to the editors for including well crafted essays written by thoughtful scholars from across the disciplines of Theology, Biblical studies, Philosophy/Philosophy of Religion and Ethics. My hope is that this series of essays deepens the conversations within the disciplines of Philosophy of Religion, Biblical Studies and Theology.

You can find this book here at IVP Academic, or here at Amazon.

I received my copy for free from IVP for review, and was not influenced by them to write a positive review.

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