Bruce Wilson Mon Sep 17, 2012
"In terms of its bloodthirsty and intolerant passages, the Bible raises considerably more issues than does the Qur’an. Some Bible passages justify genocide and multigenerational race war; the Qur’an has nothing comparable. While many Qur’anic texts undoubtedly call for warfare or bloodshed, these are hedged around with more restrictions than their biblical equivalents, with more opportunities for the defeated to make peace and survive. Furthermore, any of the defenses that can be offered for biblical violence–for instance, that these passages are unrepresentative of the overall message of the text–apply equally to the Qur-an." – Philip Jenkins, author of Laying Down The Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore The Bible’s Violent Verses
For the Islamophobia industry* there are two main lines of rhetorical attack against Islam. One challenges the character of the Prophet Mohammad. The other claims that Islam is a uniquely violent or even a terrorist religion due to the nature of scripture found in the Koran.
But in his 2011 book Laying Down The Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore The Bible’s Violent Verses by Philip Jenkins, one of the more respected scholars of religion in America, challenges the second claim head on; the Bible, demonstrates Jenkins, contains scriptural violence that is categorically more extreme than scriptural violence found in the Koran. The Bible even offers, according to Jenkins, a much more specific scriptural justification for suicide terrorism than does the Koran.
Writes Jenkins, in his introductory chapter,
"If Christians or Jews needed biblical texts to justify deeds of terrorism or ethnic slaughter, their main problem would be an embarrassment of riches. Is someone looking for a text to justify suicide terrorism? The Qur’an offers nothing explicit beyond general exhortations to warfare in the name of God. Some passages of the Bible, in contrast, seem expressly designed for this purpose. Think of the hero Samson, blinded and enslaved in Gaza, but still prepared to pull down the temple upon thousands of his persecutors:
And Samson said, Let me die with the Philistines. And he bowed himself with all his might; and the house feel upon the lords, and upon all the people that were therein. So the dead which he slew at his death were more than they which he slew in his life.
But this is not an exercise in Christianity-bashing. Jenkins’ meta-point is that violent scripture does not inevitably lead to violence. At best, religions can mature and learn to move beyond their more atavistic roots.
An evangelical Christian who is Co-Director for the Program on Historical Studies of Religion in Baylor University’s Institute for Studies of Religion, Philip Jenkins has no intent to specifically attack Christianity. It’s more of an exercise in truth-telling:
The narrative that Islam is somehow uniquely violent and that this derives from Islamic scripture has become deeply embedded in American culture – one can encounter such arguments from popular comics such as Bill Maher, from Fox News, from Newsweek, even from trendy social media websites such as Reddit.com.
But, notes Jenkins, the association of Islam with terrorism is quite new. While the Middle East and Arab nations drove a wave of global terrorism in the 1960s and 1970s, those terrorist movements were secular. Observes Jenkins, "most Palestinian activists were secular socialist nationalists, and Christians often played a prominent role in the movement’s leadership". And, Jenkins points out,
"These Middle Eastern movements had no notion of suicide terrorism, which is moreover unknown to the Islamic tradition. The first modern movement to use suicide attacks on a regular basis was Sri Lankan and mainly Hindu, with no Muslim connection whatsoever; and they adopted this method only as recently as the early 1980s. Only later did Middle Eastern and Islamist groups copy the tactic. In other cases too, hideous terrorist actions we have come to associate so firmly with Islamic extremism have clearly non-Islamic roots. To quote Olivier Roy, one of the most respected European scholars of Islam and Islamist terrorism, "The al-Qaeda video footage of the execution of foreign hostages in Iraq us a one-to-one re-enactment of the execution of Aldo Moro by the Red Brigades [in Italy in 1978], with the organization’s banner and logo in the background, with the hostage hand-cuffed and blind-folded, the mock trial with the reading of the sentence and the execution."
"If Islam incites or favors terrorism, we need to explain why Muslim terrorists should have been such latecomers on the historical scene. Why were they not the prophets and pioneers of terrorism, rather than the latecomers? Why, moreover, did they have to draw all their knowledge and tactics from fighters of other religions and of none – from Western anarchists and nihilists; from the Catholic IRA and Latin American urban guerrillas; from communists and fascists; from Zionist Jews and Sri Lankan Hindus?"
To belabor all of the scriptural citations Jenkins draws from the Bible, to support his thesis, would take many thousands of words. I’ll give you two examples. One is Phinehas, who saves the Hebrews – who have begun to intermarry with Moabite women so that the two peoples begin to share in religious worship. God becomes enraged by the race-mixing. Then, describes Jenkins,
"God furiously commands that the chiefs of Israel be impaled in the sun as means of quenching his anger. Moses commands his subordinates to kill anyone who has married a pagan, or "yolked themselves to Baal", while a plague kills twenty-four thousand Hebrews. Fortunately, Phinehas, a grandson of Aaron, preempts the worst of the catastrophe by slaughtering a mixed-race couple. God ends the plague and blesses Phinehas and his descendants."
In a February 3, 2012 Huffington Post op-ed, Philip Jenkins noted the popularity of the character of Phinehas among white supremacists:
"In 1990, Richard Kelly Hoskins used the story as the basis for his manifesto Vigilantes of Christendom, which advocated a new order of militant white supremacists, the Phineas [sic] Priesthood. Over the next decade, a number of sects assumed this title, claiming Old Testament precedent for terrorist attacks on mixedrace couples and abortion clinics. Opinions vary as to whether Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh himself was a Phineas Priest, but he was close to the movement. While the Priesthood seems to be defunct today, no observer of the neo-Nazi scene would be amazed if the name reappeared in the near-future."
Turning back to Laying Down the Sword, on page 7 Philip Jenkins writes,
"The richest harvest of gore comes from the biblical books that tell the story of the children of Israel after their escape fro Egypt, as they take over their new land in Canaan. These events are foreshadowed in the Book of Deuteronomy, in which God proclaims, "I will make mine arrows drunk with blood, and my sword shall devour flesh." We then turn to the full orgy of militarism, enslavement, and race war in the books of Joshua and Judges. Moses himself reputedly authorizes this campaign when he tells his followers that, once they reach Canaan, they must annihilate all the peoples they find in the cities especially reserved for the Hebrews. They should follow the terrifying rules of herem warfare, placing the city under a ban. Under this code, every living thing found in the city, every that breathes, should be slaughtered in a kind of mass human sacrifice… If the forces of Joshua and his successor judges had committed their acts in the modern world, observers would not hesitate to speak of war crimes, even of genocide, and they would draw comparisons with the notorious guerrilla armies of Uganda and the Congo."
The worst part of this, explains Jenkins, is that God ordered his people to exterminate, utterly, the Canaanite and Amalekite tribes – "God commanded the bloodshed and intervened forcefully when it was not pursued with enough vigor."
Observes Jenkins, the sort of full scale herem warfare, the slaughter of everything that breathed, depicted in the Bible not only is missing from the Qur’an, it is also in historical terms, even for the time period when the scriptures of the Old Testament are believed to have been written, an unusual practice.
Jenkins contextualizes these Biblical narratives of genocidal conquest by pointing out that there is almost no archaeological support whatsoever that supports the biblical account of a large-scale Israelite invasion of the land of Canaan, and he offers the hypothesis that these scriptural narratives were constructed in an attempt to solidify Israelite tribal and cultural cohesion.
But on the other hand, Jenkins points out, there is evidence to support the exploits of Josiah, as described in the second book of Kings:
"Josiah smashed sacred images, desecrated shrines, cut sacred groves, and burned the bones in tombs. He "slew all the priests of the high places that were there upon the altar, and burned the men’s bones upon them, and returned to Jerusalem." Unlike the original conquest, these events were recorded accurately by near contemporaries and firsthand observers if not by participants: this really happened… In the modern world, the closest parallel to such a policy would be among the most extreme Islamist sects, whose standard campaign platform proposes rooting out alien religious practices and symbols."
Jenkins’ claim is, unfortunately, incorrect. As I have documented at length, the leaders of the New Apostolic Reformation, a fast-growing movement within charismatic Christianity, propose that exact sort of "campaign platform" as well.
Philip Jenkins’ book is clinical to the extent that he constructs a typology, of the respective categories of violence found in the Bible and the Qur’an, and sifts through the two texts for examples. The most extreme category includes, "Texts that call for direct violence against particular races or ethnic groups", "Passages that demand or sanction the extermination of rival groups", and "Calls to annihilate enemies".
Writes, Jenkins, "The Bible abounds with Category 1 ("extreme") texts, most egregiously in Deuteronomy and Joshua, while the Qur’an has nothing strictly comparable."
Jenkins also walks readers through a treatment of how such violent scripture in the Bible has been deployed throughout European and American history, to justify or excuse violence against entire peoples (the Irish, Native-Americans, Armenians, and so on) and been reflected in the writing of top theologians.
Summing up his viewpoint on the question of violence in religious texts, whether those be Christian, Islamic, or Jewish, Philip Jenkins proposes, in his February 3, 2012 Huffington Post op-ed,
"If the founding texts determine the whole later course of a faith, then it should be impossible for Christians and Jews to live their faith without the genocidal violence and racial segregation that so abounds in their holy book — yet most believers do just that, and have done so in most eras of their history.
Yes, the bloody scriptures continue to exist, and in some circumstances, in certain conditions of social and political breakdown, extremists will cite them to provide a spiritual aura to violent and revolting acts that they were going to commit anyway. But that does not mean that we should hold the scriptures themselves responsible, or imagine that the faith as such is irrevocably tainted. Religions develop and mature over time, and it is lunatic to condemn a whole faith on the basis of its ancient horrors. That’s true for Christians, Jews — and Muslims."
*Yes, it is an industry. In 2011, the Center For American Progress released a 130-page report, on what it called the "Islamophobia Network" "which reveals that more than $42 million from seven foundations over the past decade have helped fan the flames of anti-Muslim hate in America." (PDF file of report)
Also contributing important information and analysis on the subject were People For The American Way, which published a shorter, analytical report titled The Right Wing Playbook on Anti-Muslim Extremism and Political Research Associates, which focused on the propagation of anti-Islamic myths and propaganda within the U.S. counter-terrorism industry, explained in the executive summary to its 80 page report "Manufacturing the Muslim Menace: Private Firms, Public Servants, and the Threat to Human Rights and Security" (executive summary PDF, full report PDF). The PRA report executive summary states,
"a vocal and influential sub-group of the private counterterrorism training industry markets conspiracy theories about secret jihadi campaigns to replace the U.S. Constitution with Sharia law, and effectively impugns all of Islam — a world religion with 1.3 billion adherents–as inherently violent and even terroristic.
Walid Shoebat, a popular "ex-Muslim" speaker used by multiple private training firms, recently told the audience at an International Counter-Terrorism Officers Association (ICTOA) conference, "Islam is a revolution and is intent to destroy all other systems. They want to expand, like Nazism."1 Another private sector counterterrorism trainer, John Giduck, told a Homeland Security Professionals Conference,"Going back to the time of Mohammed, Muslims’ goal has been to take over the world."2 Walid Phares, who teaches for The Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies and the National Defense University, argues that "jihadists within the West pose as civil rights advocates"3 and patiently recruit until "[a]lmost all mosques, educational centers, and socioeconomic institutions fall into their hands."4 These "jihadists" put off militant action, Phares claims ominously, "until the `holy moment’ comes."5 Solomon Bradman, CEO of the training firm Security Solutions International (SSI), likewise claims that a Muslim stealth jihad threatens the United States from within. Such assertions are far from benign. Asked by a PRA investigator what she understood to be Shoebat’s solution to the Islamic threat he described at the ICTOA event previously mentioned, one audience member responded, "Kill them, including the children. You heard him."6
Islamophobic statements like those above have the effect of demonizing the entirety of Islam as dangerous and "extremist," denying the existence of a moderate Muslim majority, or regarding Islam generally as a problem for the world.7 The private sector speakers and trainers PRA investigated routinely invoke conspiracy theories that draw upon deeply- ingrained negative stereotypes of Muslim duplicity, repression, backwardness, and evil.8 Islamophobia is "an outlook or world-view involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination" and may include the perception that Islam is inferior to the West and is a violent political ideology rather than a religion.9"
BOOK Laying Down the Sword: Why We Can’t Ignore the Bible’s Violent Verses by Philip Jenkins
“A provocative and timely comparison of the legacies of violence in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. With verve and sweeping insight, Jenkins challenges all of our stereotypical assumptions about religion, bloodshed, and terror.” (Thomas S. Kidd, author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution )
“This book is a wonderful example of the kind of rigorous work Christians must do if they are to retain intellectual credibility.” (Patrick Allitt, The American Conservative )
“Jenkins has outdone himself. This is by far the best piece of work he has ever done, dealing with one of the most controversial issues Christians struggle with day-in and day-out.” (Tony Campolo )