Holy Resilience

Holy Resilience: The Bible's Traumatic Origins

David M. Carr
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 336
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  • Book Info
    Holy Resilience
    Book Description:

    Human trauma gave birth to the Bible, suggests eminent religious scholar David Carr. The Bible's ability to speak to suffering is a major reason why the sacred texts of Judaism and Christianity have retained their relevance for thousands of years. In his fascinating and provocative reinterpretation of the Bible's origins, the author tells the story of how the Jewish people and Christian community had to adapt to survive multiple catastrophes and how their holy scriptures both reflected and reinforced each religion's resilient nature.Carr's thought-provoking analysis demonstrates how many of the central tenets of biblical religion, including monotheism and the idea of suffering as God's retribution, are factors that provided Judaism and Christianity with the strength and flexibility to endure in the face of disaster. In addition, the author explains how the Jewish Bible was deeply shaped by the Jewish exile in Babylon, an event that it rarely describes, and how the Christian Bible was likewise shaped by the unspeakable shame of having a crucified savior.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-21024-8
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. I-VI)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. VII-VIII)
    (pp. IX-XII)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-10)

    When my wife and I rolled out on a spectacular Columbus Day weekend, 2010, thoughts of biblical research were far from my mind. It was our tenth anniversary, and we were meeting some friends for a bike ride in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Just a half-hour into our ride my bicycle fell apart on a downhill. The impact on pavement left me with ten broken ribs, a broken collarbone, a collapsed lung, and months of healing and rehabilitation ahead. I lived, barely. The thoracic surgeon who eventually rebuilt my chest with six platinum plates said that I was...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Israel, Judah, and the Birth of Scripture
    (pp. 11-23)

    Ancient israel suffered, but its scriptures did notbeginwith trauma. The most ancient Israel did not even have written texts. Its oral traditions, if anything, celebrated victory rather than mourning defeat.

    “Israel” first appears in the record of the Ancient Near East about three thousand years ago in 1250 bce (bce=bc). The land of Canaan was dominated by Egypt, an empire built around the Nile River about four hundred miles to the west. The ruler of Egypt, Pharaoh Mernephtah, sent an expedition to Canaan to assert his dominance over the area. In an inscription celebrating his campaign, he boasts...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Birth of Monotheism
    (pp. 24-40)

    Sometimes in the 700s bce the nation of Israel was attacked and fell under the domination of the greatest superpower of its time, Assyria. The Assyrian empire was based in Mesopotamia, in what is now northern Iraq. Starting in the early 700s the Assyrians began conquering kingdoms to their west, gradually gaining control of the plains and other country separating them from the Mediterranean and important trade routes. Scholars debate their motivation, but the impact was clear: kingdom after kingdom across a vast realm became subject to Assyrian rule. Sometimes a group of small kingdoms would band together to resist...

  7. CHAPTER THREE Judah’s Survival
    (pp. 41-66)

    Israel was destroyed, but Judah survived. Judah’s survival came to be symbolized in an event never fully understood: Jerusalem’s mysterious escape from the armies of Sennacherib that besieged it in 701 bce during the reign of Hezekiah, king of Judah. The Bible contains no fewer than four divergent accounts of this event, and we even have an account by the Assyrians themselves of attacking and then withdrawing from Hezekiah’s Jerusalem. These accounts disagree on why the Assyrians pulled back, but one thing is clear: Jerusalem survived virtually certain destruction where Israel and other opponents of Assyria had fallen. For the...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR Jerusalem’s Destruction and Babylonian Exile
    (pp. 67-90)

    The egyptians who killed Josiah in 609 bce controlled Judah only for a few years. A new “Chaldean” empire arose, based in ancient Babylon. In 604, five years after Josiah’s death, this Chaldean “Neo-Babylonian” empire seized power over lands once controlled by Assyria, including Judah. We do not know much about the background of these Chaldeans who took over rule of Babylon, but they generally had a less bloodthirsty reputation than the Assyrians.

    At first the Chaldean-Babylonians allowed the existing king of Judah, Jehoiakim, to remain. But he had been appointed to power by Egypt and was pro-Egyptian. After only...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Abraham and Exile
    (pp. 91-109)

    When asked to sing “songs of Zion,” the exiles asked, “How can we sing the song of Yahweh in a foreign land?” (Psalm 137:4). Some exiles, unable to see a future as Judeans, assimilated into Babylonian culture. We may even have written records of such assimilated Jews in recently discovered legal contracts written by exiled Judeans in Babylon. The people in these contracts bear Judean names, but their legal documents are otherwise indistinguishable from the documents composed by native Babylonians. These records show how thoroughly some exiles had adapted to their Babylonian cultural context.

    Yet the Hebrew Bible is a...

  10. CHAPTER SIX The Story of Moses
    (pp. 110-127)

    After genesis, in the book of Exodus we confront a similar pattern to that seen in the previous chapter: older traditions about distant ancestors reshaped and expanded—sometimes radically—in light of the experience of exile. As I have mentioned, Moses was an ancient historical figure for the Israelite tribes, and he was a focus of some of Israel’s earliest writings.

    Despite these older origins of the story of Moses, we now have a biblical Moses story because that Israelite story spoke to the experiences of much later, exiled Judeans. This means that the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy worked...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN The Return Home
    (pp. 128-140)

    The silence surrounding exile ends with words from Cyrus, king of the Persian Empire, which defeated the Babylonians. In a proclamation repeated at the end of the books of Chronicles and the beginning of the book of Ezra, Cyrus proclaims that the temple in Jerusalem shall be rebuilt and the exiles may return.

    Yahweh, the God of heaven, gave me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has commanded me to build him a house [Temple] in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone of you of all his people, may Yahweh, his God, be with him. Let him go...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Traumatic Crystallization of Scripture
    (pp. 141-155)

    We jump forward now to a time two hundred years after Ezra, approximately 175 bce. Things had been going well, comparatively, for the Jews over the preceding centuries. Though there have been minor wars now and then and occasional struggles with famine, the Jewish people have experienced centuries of life without a catastrophe like they faced under Assyria and then Babylonia. Even when the Greek king Alexander the Great conquered the Persian Empire, Judah’s new Hellenistic rulers recognized the rights of Jews to live “according to the laws of the fathers,” which included the laws of Torah and provision for...

  13. CHAPTER NINE Christianity’s Founding Trauma
    (pp. 156-173)

    It was a spectacular late summer morning in New York City. I was at a Sunday worship service at Broadway Presbyterian Church, September 16, 2001, five days after the September 11 attack. The whole country was in shock, but in New York we did not just see images of the catastrophe, we could smell it. The ruins of the World Trade Center continued to smolder for days. Flowers were laid at every firehouse, and posters were posted on lamp-posts asking after missing loved ones. The pastor, Walter Tennyson, pointed to a saying across the back of the sanctuary that read,...

  14. CHAPTER TEN The Traumatized Apostle
    (pp. 174-194)

    The apostle paul stands at the crossroads of Christianity. Though not a disciple during Jesus’ lifetime, Paul became one of the most influential apostles after his death, perhapsthemost important apostle. Paul was a card-carrying member of the Pharisees, the Jesus movement’s greatest competitor in Judaism. He personally was one of the Jesus movement’s earliest opponents. Yet he soon became one of that movement’s greatest evangelists. Most important, he provided the rationale for Christianity’s global mission beyond Judaism to gentiles (non-Jews).

    Despite his importance, Paul’s basic message has proven notoriously difficult to nail down. Theologians like Augustine and Luther...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN The Traumatic Origins of Judaism and Christianity
    (pp. 195-224)

    Before closing this book, there is one more communal trauma to be described, one that played a fundamental role in origins of religions we now call Judaism and Christianity. That trauma was the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, its Temple, and any form of Judaism focused on either. Like the earlier Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, this Roman devastation of Second Temple Judaism was explosive and haunting in a way that qualifies it as “traumatic” rather than just intensely painful. Before this, there was an incredible range of different types of Judaism and Jewish groups: Sadducees, Pharisees, Essenes, Gnostics,...

  16. CHAPTER TWELVE The Posttraumatic Gospel
    (pp. 225-243)

    The new testament gospels show how the story of Jesus was reshaped in the decades after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem, during the very time that the church was increasingly seen by Rome as a criminal form of Judaism.

    This perspective requires a reorientation in how many view the Christian gospels. According to tradition, they were written by eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, his own apostles and associates—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Yet biblical scholars concluded more than a century ago that this is unlikely. Though these gospels definitely include early traditions, they look back on Jesus’ life from the...

  17. Epilogue
    (pp. 244-252)

    So where does this leave us? At the end of a course on Bible and Trauma, one of my students said, “I feel after this course like someone who grew up in a town where all the buildings were knocked down by an earthquake and thought that is the way all buildings were supposed to look.” We take a lot of things for granted in a culture dominated by what is often called the Judeo-Christian tradition. Many dimensions of our culture, ones many of us assume are “normal,” were formed by ancient communal traumas.

    More specifically, Western culture carries ideas...

  18. APPENDIX Contemporary Study of Trauma and Ancient Trauma
    (pp. 253-270)
  19. NOTES
    (pp. 271-302)
    (pp. 303-306)
    (pp. 307-310)
  22. INDEX
    (pp. 311-322)