“The Old Testament Case for Nonviolence” by Matthew Curtis Fleischer

The Old Testament Case for NonviolenceThe Old Testament Case for Nonviolence by Matthew Curtis Fleischer
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Disclaimer: this book is intended for Christian audiences. The book looks at the violence of the Christian Old Testament and tries to argue for a fulfillment in Jesus, giving a future status of nonviolence. To accomplish this, the author first highlights the score of violent episodes found in Torah. The author faces a challenge that he fails to overcome when looking at historical texts: not just considering context, but also removing presuppositions during interpretation. During the time of Torah, Jesus had not yet been born. The author, however, uses Jesus later in the text in connection to Torah. This is to be expected with the Christian doctrine of believing that Jesus is a god, but when actually looking critically at a text, such beliefs are not integral components but rather extraneous information. To use Jesus when examining Torah to try to tie him into the event is to write one’s beliefs into history and thus prooftext the material being read.

In the beginning chapters, the author offhandedly refers to the violence of Torah as mere jealousy of HaShem, which discounts and dismisses the decision of the Creator to end life. Additionally, he comments that the violence seems arbitrary, petty, and vindictive. This is important to highlight for the reader to note that this text is not a historical analysis, but, when combined with the aforementioned Jesus issue, a theological treatise on violence found in the Christian Bible. If being considered on those grounds, then the text does summarize Christian theology well and addresses a significant issue: if Jesus stands against violence, then why is the Old Testament full of it?

The problem, even in a theological context, is that this book does not consider the Jewish context of Jewish texts while evaluating them. Judaism today is not an advocate of violence. In fact, there are laws that forbid loss of life, so it would seem that the Torah contradicts itself. So, then, how does one consider “an eye for an eye” when other laws forbid cruel punishment? The traditional Jewish approach is to look to Talmud and rabbinic interpretation. The rabbis highlight these variances and point out that in order to reconcile, there must be a “deeper application.” This is where Judaism cites the different levels of compensation for loss as the alternative. This is necessary to recognize when interpreting Jewish texts, otherwise an incomplete and often incorrect understanding results.

The author recognizes many disconnects and asks honest questions that need to be considered. Additionally, he gives more than sufficient citations for his work, in endnote form, for readers to follow up on if they wish to learn more on source content. In order to balance his violence disconnect, he relies on a form of dispensationalism to explain the “evolution” or “incremental theological changes” that led from the Christian understanding of Judaism to contemporary Christianity. This makes sense in some regards, but then lends the question: Judaism today is nonviolent, so what evolution accounts for this, since Jesus is obviously not in the Jewish picture?

Overall, the author asks excellent questions and seeks to evaluate them to the best he can with his Christian resources. His work is excellent for Christian audiences, but it definitely lacks Jewish source material to give a correct understanding. As a result, his conclusion is limited to a Christian audience as well. Nonetheless, the author writes with a literary spark of interest, carrying the reader through the work. When dealing with theological works such as this, it is easy to lose the reader in boredom (I try to review books based on reader engagement, not necessarily my own interest). In this work, I found myself interested from the beginning to keep reading. I believe readers will find a similar engagement, but as I mentioned at the start of this review, this work is intended for Christian audiences, which is the greatest, and only, limiting factor in widespread readership of this work.

Disclosure: I have received a reviewer copy and/or payment in exchange for an honest review of the product mentioned in this post. This product is reviewed based on content and quality in consideration of the intended audience. Review or recommendation of this product does not solicit endorsement from Reviews by J or the reviewer.

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