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Katie van Schaijik

Violence in the Koran vs. the Old Testament

Jun. 8, 2009, at 11:34am

There is a fascinating article in the current issue of the Middle East Quarterly on the question of violence in religion. Its author, Raymond Ibrahim, takes issue with those who contend that there is no significant difference between the place of violence in the Muslim and Judeo-Christian traditions.
Here’s an excerpt:

In light of the above, as Armstrong, Esposito, Jenkins, and others argue, why should Jews and Christians point to the Qur’an as evidence of Islam’s violence while ignoring their own scriptures and history?

Bible versus Qur’an

The answer lies in the fact that such observations confuse history and theology by conflating the temporal actions of men with what are understood to be the immutable words of God. The fundamental error is that Judeo-Christian history (which is violent) is being conflated with Islamic theology (which commands violence). Of course, the three major monotheistic religions have all had their share of violence and intolerance towards the other. Whether this violence is ordained by God or whether warlike men merely wished it thus is the key question.

Old Testament violence is an interesting case in point. God clearly ordered the Hebrews to annihilate the Canaanites and surrounding peoples. Such violence is therefore an expression of God’s will, for good or ill. Regardless, all the historic violence committed by the Hebrews and recorded in the Old Testament is just that: history. It happened; God commanded it. But it revolved around a specific time and place and was directed against a specific people. At no time did such violence go on to become standardized or codified into Jewish law. In short, biblical accounts of violence are descriptive, not prescriptive.

I would love to see this question, too, taken up by personalist philosophers, especially in view of the imperative of inter-religious dialogue and the problems related to freedom raised, for instance, in Josef Seifert’s post below.


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