How should we read the violent texts of the Old Testament?

The violent texts in the Old Testament create challenges for all readers of these texts, whether Jewish, Christian, or unbelieving. Charlie Trimm, who is an Associate Professor of Old Testament at Biola University, has written a very helpful short book on the different ways we might engage with the texts, The Destruction of the Canaanites: God, Genocide, and Biblical Interpretation. 

I had the chance to ask him about the issue and his book.

IP: The question of violence in the Old Testament, particularly associated with the conquest of the Promised Land, is perhaps one of the most vexing for our reading of Scripture. Why do you think this is so important? Is it primarily an interpretive and theological challenge for Christians, or an apologetic one in relation to those antagonistic to Christian faith?

CT: I think that the reason that this issue is so broadly problematic for readers of the Old Testament is that it relates to something that is pretty close to a moral universal in today’s world: genocide is bad. Not only do most people agree on condemning genocide, they also view it as perhaps the worst thing one could do. Hitler is routinely used as the parade example of an evil person, mostly because it is commonly accepted that he was horribly evil. Therefore, when readers of Deuteronomy and Joshua see that the kind and compassionate God of Exodus is commanding something that looks like genocide, it is predictably disturbing for them.

As far as the demographics, I think that this problem is shared between both readers of faith who have serious questions about the God that they serve as well as those who are antagonistic to the Christian faith and use this story as a key example of why they do not serve such a deity.

IP: Despite being a concise book, it is brimming with footnotes and references—the literature seems vast! How did you go about tackling the challenge of the range of commentary on the question?

CT: I’ve been interested in this question for a long time, so I’ve had time to read through lots of material. This book started out life as a paper for my students to read, then turned into a presentation at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society, and then it was accepted into an edited book looking at the narrative literature of the Old Testament. That project eventually was cancelled.

Tyndale NT study group 2021: the later Pauline epistles

The Tyndale New Testament Study Group looking at the Later Pauline Epistles will be taking place online this year, from Wednesday 23rd to Friday 25th June. We have a great line-up of international speakers offering some fascinating papers, and the sessions will be timed to allow attendance from different time zones around the world. The cost … Continue Reading

The politics of the cross

Elaine Storkey writes: As we reflect on the significance of the Cross this Easter, in the forceful political atmosphere of our times, its own political dimension hits us afresh. Like each of us, Jesus was born into a political context; he lived and died experiencing its pressures, posturing, and power-mongering.  Politics is wrapped up in the … Continue Reading

Are we all guilty?

What will be the legacy of the extraordinary expression of solidarity that has unfurled with the #metoo social media phenomenon? It was launched on the back of the allegations by actress Alyssa Milano of abuse by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein—but has travelled a long way from these celebrity elites. It has been clear, even from … Continue Reading

A Tribute to Jill Saward

Elaine Storkey writes: The sad news of Jill Saward’s death has reverberated widely, more than most of us could have anticipated. It was headlined by the BBC, featured in newspapers and spread through the social media. Something of Jill’s story has touched a chord with people across the country, so that even many who were … Continue Reading