November 17, 2002
Religion Of Peace?

Sasha Volokh is the latest to post some of the more bloodthirsty and less familiar passages of the Old Testament, illustrating how easy it would be to depict Christianity and Judaism as inherently brutal religions of conquest.

There is another angle along the same lines that is worth exploring. Wasn't Samson the first suicide bomber? Explosives had not been invented, but his titanic physical strength provided an adequate substitute and produced very similar effects: a collapsed building and a lot of dead people, including himself. Though I can't back it up with quotations, since I don't have the right books, I have heard that Christian theologians have struggled with Samson for centuries, and I suspect that rabbis have also found his example troubling. If suicide is a terrible sin, how can Samson possibly be any sort of hero? Is it because he takes dozens of the Philistines with him when he kills himself? That has an unpleasant resemblance to the arguments Muslims make in defense of suicide bombers. I don't know the answer to the theological problem, but I'm very glad that there are few, if any, Christian or Jewish terrorists today who model themselves on Samson, while substituting modern explosives for his brute strength.

Posted by Dr. Weevil at November 17, 2002 03:11 PM

If the Israelis ever blind a Palestinian and put him on display in their Temple...

Posted by: markm on November 17, 2002 08:53 PM

Well, Jews don't take the Bible literally. Everything gets thoroughly processed through a Talmudic wringer. (I imagine the Church fathers did the same thing with the New Testament, although that's not my part of the book.)

Interestingly, the most "militaristic" holiday in Judaism, Chanukah, doesn't get much of a mention in the Talmud. The entire Talmudic discussion of Chanukah is summed up in a few brief pages in tractate Shabbat. And--most of the discussion focuses on the candle lighting, and the miracle of the oil. There is almost no discussion of the Maccabees anywhere in the Talmud. The rabbis were obviously troubled by the implications of Hanukkah, and didn't quite know what to do with it. Most of our knowledge of the actual story comes from the book(s) of Maccabees, which the rabbis did not incorporate into the Jewish canon.

Oddly enough, these books are regarded by Catholics as scriptural.

Posted by: Diana on November 17, 2002 08:59 PM

Also, Samson is not regarded as a suicide by the rabbis. He is more analogous to a soldier who dies in battle. After all, he had no other weapon available.

A much more problematic example Jewishly speaking would be the suicides at Masada. Their example is completely at odds with Jewish teachings and it is thus very bizarre that they should have become Zionist folk heroes.

Posted by: Diana on November 18, 2002 05:10 PM

Yeah, but Peter O'Toole was great in the movie. He played the Roman commander, of course.

The thing is, Doc, I was going to say what Diana said about not taking the Bible literally. But she already did, so this post is rather useless.

Hm. [thinking]

Mark, the Palestinians aren't descendants of the Philistines. Only the name is similar. They're Egyptians and Syrians who settled in Israel.

Posted by: Meryl Yourish on November 19, 2002 01:40 AM

FWIW, many Christians don't consider the Old Testament to be 'in effect' for christianity, so to speak, since it all occurred before Jesus and any christians.

The New Testament is pretty much the main part for Christians, and there's not much violent stuff in there. Some Christians go as far as saying that the god in the OT was a completely different god. (Since otherwise it means god is pretty schizo).

Islam, OTOH, pretty much took all the violent stuff from the OT, and amplified it. (And most muslims seem to take it literally, unlike most Jews)

Posted by: Jeremy on November 19, 2002 09:10 PM

Meryl: Re the stuff about the Pals. being recent emigrants, that idea has been shredded by Israeli historians. Google "Yehoshua Porath" and "New York Review of Books."

Posted by: diana on November 20, 2002 09:45 AM

One of the ways Christianity has tried to contrast itself to Judaism is to characterize itself as the religion of love and Judaism as the religion of law (in the Jewish world view, God gave us the laws out of love). Along with that goes the stereotype Christianity as being about "turning the other cheek" and Judaism about all those nasty tribal wars in the Tanakh. I see this on leftist anti-war websites occasionally.

Of course if you add up all the people massacred as a result of wars fomented by the 3 respective Abrahamic religions, Judaism would be at the bottom of the list. Even if we had not been a subject peoples for most of our history, since we have never had any interest in conquering the world and our tribal homeland was never larger than Maryland, our field of war was more limited than that of our two daughter universalist, empire-building religions.

Posted by: Yehudit on November 20, 2002 09:34 PM

I believe that Diana,supra, is correct about Sampson If his primary intention was to destroy the Phillistines, his own death was a sort of "collateral damage," and not morally culpable. She is right about Masada, as well. The suicides at Masada were the Sicarii--the "dagger-men," a gang of terrorist fanatics whose trademark was assassination by knife--a sort of a first-century al-Qaeda. They committed suicide because some months before they had beseiged the Roman garrison in the Roman fortress of Masada, and had obtaind the Romans' surrender by perfidy, slaughtering their innocent prisoners. Invested a year later by Roman forces, they could expect only justice as war criminals and committed suicide to avoid punishment. Look it up. It's all in Josephus.

Posted by: Lou Gots on November 23, 2002 02:59 PM