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Fighting Words: Religion, Violence, and the Interpretation of Sacred Texts

Edited by John Renard
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 262
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  • Book Info
    Fighting Words
    Book Description:

    One of the critical issues in interreligious relations today is the connection, both actual and perceived, between sacred sources and the justification of violent acts as divinely mandated.Fighting Wordsmakes solid text-based scholarship accessible to the general public, beginning with the premise that a balanced approach to religious pluralism in our world must build on a measured, well-informed response to the increasingly publicized and sensationalized association of terrorism and large-scale violence with religion. In his introduction, Renard provides background on the major scriptures of seven religious traditions-Jewish, Christian (including both the Old and New Testaments), Islamic, Baha'i, Zoroastrian, Hindu, and Sikh. Eight chapters then explore the interpretation of select facets of these scriptures, focusing on those texts so often claimed, both historically and more recently, as inspiration and justification for every kind of violence, from individual assassination to mass murder. With its nuanced consideration of a complex topic, this book is not merely about the religious sanctioning of violence but also about diverse ways of reading sacred textual sources.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95408-3
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Exegesis and Violence: Texts, Contexts, and Hermeneutical Concerns
    (pp. 1-28)
    John Renard

    Thomas Hobbes famously observed in hisLeviathanthat human life is “nasty, brutish, and short.” He and other influential philosophers have identified violence as virtually a “state of nature” that humankind has struggled endlessly to ameliorate, and with precious little success. Religious authors in every age and culture have likewise filled libraries with their analyses of the roots and remedies of this scourge, this “mark of Cain.” Every credible religious or ethical system condemns murder, yet sacred texts claimed by adherents of most (if not all) religious traditions describe in often grisly detail how believers have had recourse to divinely...

  5. 2 A Brief History of War in the Hebrew Bible and the Jewish Interpretive Tradition
    (pp. 29-54)
    Reuven Firestone

    The Hebrew Bible is a collection of diverse kinds of literature, reflecting many wide-ranging aspects of human culture and society, and spanning up to a thousand years of human experience.¹ Within this anthology one can find numerous stories depicting violence, battles, and all-out wars between individuals, families, tribes, and national communities. Some legal material also treats rules of behavior in war. These all reflect the social and political reality of the ancient Near East, where war and violent acts were considered to be normal, effective, and acceptable tools within the political repertoire available to family, tribal, and national leaderships. Israel²...

  6. 3 Annihilate Amalek! Christian Perspectives on 1 Samuel 15
    (pp. 55-74)
    Bernhard A. Asen

    In the Academy Award winning moviePatton, starring George C. Scott, an important scene finds General Patton frustrated by bad weather. He summons the Third Army division chaplain and requests a “weather prayer.” Patton: “I want a prayer, a weather prayer.” Chaplain: “A weather prayer, sir?” Patton: “Yes, let’s see if you can’t get God working with us.” Chaplain: “Gonna take a thick rug for that kind of praying.” Patton: “I don’t care if it takes a flying carpet.” Chaplain: “I don’t know how this will be received, general. Praying for good weather so we can kill our fellow man.”...

  7. 4 Violence in the New Testament and the History of Interpretation
    (pp. 75-100)
    Leo D. Lefebure

    Even though Jesus proclaimed a gospel of peace (Matthew 10:12–13; Luke 10:5; John 14:27; 20:19, 21, 26), Christians have repeatedly engaged in violent conflicts both with their neighbors in other religious traditions and with other Christians. Christian warriors have worn the sign of the cross in battle and have often seen themselves as fighting on behalf of God’s cause; they have cited biblical passages to justify violent assaults, inquisitions, and persecutions. Christians have also invoked the Bible to place limits on violence or to end violence altogether.

    The roots of this ambivalence lie in the ambiguities of the Christian...

  8. 5 Finhās of Medina: Islam, “The Jews,” and the Construction of Religious Militancy
    (pp. 101-134)
    Michael A. Sells

    Group names are inevitable. We cannot live without them. But we do not find it easy to live peacefully with them. A group name occupies an ambiguous zone between generalization and specification. Take the expression, which I invent for the purposes of illustration, “the Alberians carried out a crime against humanity.” The group name designates a group and does not make any exceptions to the group designation. If found in a newspaper or history book, it might refer to a particular army or irregular militia unit that carried out a particular crime at a particular time and place, but which...

  9. 6 The Baha’i Tradition: The Return of Joseph and the Peaceable Imagination
    (pp. 135-157)
    Todd Lawson

    In the Baha’i tradition, nonviolence is not a principle derived primarily through exegesis but one given through revelation, to use the Baha’i technical term for its primary scripture. There can be no dispute or discussion on this point by either a follower of the Baha’i faith or those who study and understand this relatively recent religion. What may be a source of discussion is the question of how in the context of the history of religion and religions and especially the history of the Baha’i faith this came to be. Here I will first offer a brief discussion of the...

  10. 7 Justifiable Force and Holy War in Zoroastrianism
    (pp. 158-176)
    Jamsheed K. Choksy

    There are numerous past and present scholarly debates over interpretations of theological, ritual, and philological issues in the Zoroastrian Avesta, or scriptures, and itsZand, or priestly commentaries. However, unlike for example the raging discussions over the Muslim pillar of faith known asjihād, scholars of the ancient Iranian religion named Zoroastrianism, after its founder Zarathushtra, have rarely broached the issues of just and unjust violence and of holy and sacrilegious war. Combat when examined both by the faith’s practitioners and by scholars is largely understood in terms of theodicy and eschatology linked to the human condition.

    Many individuals who...

  11. 8 The Failure of Allegory: Notes on Textual Violence and the Bhagavad Gita
    (pp. 177-199)
    Laurie L. Patton

    In late November 1992, I visited the Gandhi Memorial in bustling Delhi. Eight days later I traveled to the remote city of Nanded, in the Indian state of Maharashtra, for ethnographic research. At the Gandhi memorial, the Gita was regularly cited by tour guides and was even part of a makeshift display on the techniques of nonviolence that Gandhi used. The verses displayed were from the second half of the second chapter of the Gita, verses about attaining inner peace and self control, which Gandhi (d. 1948) felt were the core of the Gita’s message. Later that week in Nanded,...

  12. 9 Words as Weapons: Theory and Practice of a Righteous War (Dharam Yudh) in Sikh Texts
    (pp. 200-226)
    Pashaura Singh

    The last two decades of the twentieth century witnessed a popular representation of Sikhs in the Indian media as bloodthirsty avengers rather than as bloodied victims. The principal reason for this stereotype was the rise of Sikh nationalism in the early 1980s. Akali Dal (army of the immortal), the main political party of the Sikhs in the Punjab, was demanding increased autonomy for all the states of India. During that period, relations with the Indian government became increasingly strained as a result. In an apparent attempt to sow dissension in the ranks of the Akali Dal, the Congress government encouraged...

    (pp. 227-234)
    (pp. 235-236)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 237-254)