Apocalyptic Violence in the Bible


We interrupt our James Alison note-taking to bring you this special bulletin from Girardians everywhere about apocalyptic violence in the Bible:
Lutheran pastor Paul Nuechterlein writes, in “Opening Comments on Apocalyptic” at Girardian Reflections on the Lectionary:
“It is important, I think, to understand the Girardian explanation of apocalyptic violence. Sacrificial violence is a sacred, sanctioned violence that comes into place in order to keep in check the fearsome profane, random violence. A sacrificial crisis, in the Girardian parley, occurs when the effectiveness of the sacrificial institutions is waning such that the sacrificial violence loses its effectiveness in containing profane violence. If a new sacrificial solution does not come into play, then the profane violence grows into apocalyptic violence. Throughout human history we see cycles of being on the verge of such violence and then new sacrificial solutions come into play to again bring relative peace. During the sacrificial crises, there are often cries of the Final Apocalypse, a violence that will finally consume us. And in sacralized settings, this apocalyptic violence is attributed to the deity: the gods will bring a resounding judgment that will punish the wicked and reward the just. To the mind under the influence of the Sacred, apocalyptic violence is the ultimately divine sacred violence.

“But Girard argues that the continuing effect of the Gospel in history is to desacralize, i.e., to make it clear to us that violence is not of the true God; violence is ours alone. … It begins with a small band of disciples who have witnessed the resurrection of the Innocent One who was crucified by those sacralized powers of violence and raised from the dead by the true God in Vindication. As more and more people come to see the revelation (apocalypse in the Greek) of sacred violence, however, it also means the increasing ineffectiveness of the sacrificial institutions to contain mimetic violence. The times of sacrificial crises increasingly come closer together, and what looms on the horizon is the possibility of a truly apocalyptic violence: a sacrificial crisis in which a new sacrificial solution cannot assert itself because the revelation of the cross has finally made such solutions impossible. In short, the Apocalypse would be a sacrificial crisis that doesn’t result in a new sacrificial solution — no sanctioned violence to contain the random, mimetic violence. And this is a possibility that the revelation of the cross and resurrection bring about and that the work of the Paraclete slowly has made more real. Girard contends that this is why the New Testament is realistic about the possibility of apocalyptic violence — because it is the Gospel itself which disarms the powers of sacred violence.”
Later, Nuechterlein quotes extensively from Mark Heim’s new book, Saved from Sacrifice, in which Heim directly addresses the role of violence in the Bible. Briefly:
What is violence doing in the Bible? It is telling us the truth, the truth about our human condition, about the fundamental dynamics that lead to human bloodshed, and most particularly, the truth about the integral connection between religion and violence. … We always knew this was the way things were, we claim. We don’t need a religious text to tell us so. We need cures, not diagnosis. But is that true? What if our cures need diagnosing? …”
Heim repeats the question, What is violence doing in the Bible?, and responds further:
“It is showing us the nature of the mimetic conflict that threatens to destroy human community. It is showing us the religious dynamic of scapegoating sacrifice that arises to allay such crisis. It is letting us hear the voices of the persecuted victims and their pleas for revenge and vindication. It is showing God’s judgment (even violent judgment) against violence, and most particularly, God’s siding with the outcast victims of scapegoating persecution. The Old Testament is an antimyth. It is thick with bodies, the voices of victims and threatened victims. This landscape is either the product of an idiosyncratic, bloodthirsty imagination or the actual landscape of history and religion. If the latter, then what is remarkable is not that the scriptures describe it, but that we should think it normal not to.” (pp. 101-103)
I recommend reading further if the role of violence in the Bible interests you (and why wouldn’t it? :-)).


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