Read the excuses these scholars make for violence in the bible

Psalm 137 7-9 Understanding Violence in the Bible

Posted: 01/25/2013 10:57 am EST  |  Updated: 01/25/2013 11:21 am EST

The Bible comes up in the conversation on HuffPost Religion almost daily. One disturbing psalm is of particular interest commenting community. On a recent article we posted about what the bible says about hope, a commenter wrote, “I don’t know what it says about hope but I found this nifty verse about murdering infants.”

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That wasn’t the first time one of our readers brought it up. The Religion team sees Psalm 137: 7-9 appear in virtually any conversation on an article that mentions the Bible or one of our many pieces of scriptural commentary. With so much interest, we couldn’t ignore the topic of violence in the Bible any longer. What is the deal with murdering babies? It couldn’t be instruction for living in the same vein as “love thy neighbor”. Could it? What does it even mean? What’s the context?

We reached out to three scholars to get the low-down on of the most eyebrow raising pieces of scripture in the Bible. Our experts are Joel Baron, a fifth year student at Hebrew College, a pluralistic rabbinic seminary, Julia M. O'Brien, professor of Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and Greg Carey, professor of New Testament. Both O'Brien and Carey teach at Lancaster Theological Seminary. Below is the full hebrew translation of the psalm and collection of our approaches from the scholars.

The Verse
1 By the rivers of Babylon,
there we sat and we wept
as we remembered Zion.
2 On the poplars within her we hung our lyres,
3 for it was there our captors asked us for words of song,
and our tormentors – for their amusement –
said, “Sing for us from a song of Zion.”
4 How can we sing a song of the Lord on foreign soil?
5 O Jerusalem, if I should forget you may my right hand wither.
6 May my tongue cleave to my palate
if I cease to remember you,
if I do not cause Jerusalem to be raised
to the very top of my joy.
7 Do you remember, O Lord, the Edomites on
the day of Jerusalem?
How they said, “Tear her down!
Down to her very foundation!”
8 O, Daughter of Babylon, you despoiler,
Happy is the one who pays you your recompense
as you dealt out to us.
9 Happy the one who will seize and dash your infants against the rock!

Read the rest here. Read the excuses they make.

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My favorite biblical screw-up consists of two verses:

Luke 6:27 - But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you...

Luke 19:27 - But those mine enemies, which would not that I should reign over them, bring hither, and slay them before me.

So ... we should love our enemies, but kill 'em anyway?!? Somehow, I Don't THINK So...

I suppose god is fickle and can't make up his mind. Kill them or love them?

Your favorite? It used to be one of my favorites as well... but I had to quit using it. You see, I hate to break it to you, but quoting Luke 19:27 without the surrounding text is incredibly misleading. Before anyone starts blasting me about this, I assure you that I've got the best intentions. I would rather a fellow Atheist point out my missteps rather than a Theist do so because the Theist will be less forgiving. On top of that, it makes us all look bad when our statements can be so easily countered. Trust me on this one, we ALL need to stop misquoting this particular scripture.

See for yourself the content of Luke 19:11-27

Sure it's true that Jesus said that, but it's just as true to say that you did as well. That quote is from a parable that Jesus is telling. It is therefore not Jesus who is saying it, but rather a character in a story that Jesus is telling. Within this story, two of the characters, including the man himself, admit to being severe, cruel, lazy and greedy. Also, when taken in the context of the whole of Luke 19, we find that the previous story was about a very generous tax collector who gave away half his wealth to the poor and also repaid all those he had defrauded fourfold, which Jesus praised him for. In this context, it is clear to me that Jesus wasn't too fond of the character in his parable who commanded for the slaughter of his enemies before him. So we can't even justifiably suggest that Jesus thought this was a cool dude worth emulating, and therefore the quote is still valid.

Then we need look no further than THE NEXT VERSE Luke 19:28-31 and you have Jesus commanding his disciples to steal a colt. So we don't have to even look that far to find a major transgression taking place and yet so many focus on a misleading selective quote because it sounds worse. Yeah, that's the sort of thing I tend to prefer to leave to the other team.

Thank you Nathaniel - those are horrible versus - i agree.

The overall parable could read as though Jesus were endorsing, indeed demanding that his followers practice capitalism and DAMNING those who decline that practice!  Of course, it depends on how you wish to read the parable and (that magic word again) Interpret it.

I could also spin it to say that the "mina" of the story was Jesus' word, that one man spread to 10 and another to five, and the hapless last one did not spread it at all, and is thus condemned.

[sigh] I suppose this is one of the reasons why I'm a pragmatist - my Resnick & Halliday physics text has no such vagaries.  Maybe that's why I like it better.

That's actually the thing I dislike most about the bible, and most religious texts for that matter. They're so open to interpretation that they can be twisted and spun every which way. It is said that even the devil can quote scripture to his own ends, and if that is true then the bible cannot be a tool for righteousness. It is a tool of justification. It is a book we look to when we want to say "SEE! SEE THIS! I'M RIGHT!"

Perhaps this "twistability" is exactly why the bible has remained influential for two millennia!

Of course it is ... because ANYONE can use it to their own ends.  Or, put another way:

An atom-blaster is a good weapon, but it can point both ways.
-- Salvor Hardin, Mayor of Terminus

Nathaniel and Loren you are right that the bible can be interpreted any way you chose and can be used to justify many horrible acts. Like slavery, oppression of women, etc.

I think god is your classic crazy phsyco. If you keep doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result each time , well then you have metal problems

exactly - "god" has mental problems

Theology is a load of crap.




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