How are Christians to approach troubling passages in the Old Testament, the so-called “texts of terror?” What are we to make of the conquests done by God’s own people in the Old Covenant, and in the name of God? And what about God’s command for total annihilation of men, women, and children? These and other questions are what William Webb and Gordon Oeste set out to unpack in Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? Wrestling with Troubling War Texts.
Presenting in a balanced way the major viewpoints often espoused within evangelicalism, the authors proceed to point out strengths and weaknesses of both the traditional view and a more progressive view. The traditional view is as follows: God is entirely just in commanding genocide but we humans have trouble understanding his justice, and the progressive or anti-traditional view is: God did not command the genocide: we wrongly attribute this evil to God. While Part I of my review touches on this a bit more, here I will deal with my overall impression of Bloody, Brutal, & Barbaric.
Here are some reasons I am enthusiastic about recommending this resource.
Avoids Easy Answers to Complex Questions
Modern Westerners tend to gravitate toward easy fixes, with this being generally true in the Western church as well. Both authors avoid easy-fix answers at all costs, honestly wrestling with various war texts and their implications. While this may leave the reader a bit uncomfortable, it is also refreshing.
Deep Commitment to Scripture
From the outset, the authors ask (and implore the reader to question) whether or not traditional ways of responding to violence in the Bible are adequate, at times poking holes in tradition. While they are willing to question tradition, they assume the authority of Scripture and its bearing on everyday living throughout the book.
Full of cautious exegesis and avoiding caricaturing various viewpoints, this is an even-handed resource and the the best book on the so-called “texts of terror” that I have personally come across. Very well-researched and well-documented, the authors state that it took fourteen years to write, and it is apparent.
Pays Attention to the World of the Bible
Bringing into the discussion Ancient Near Eastern culture and non-biblical war texts, as well as views of God and violence, the authors go to great lengths to paint us with a more accurate and well-rounded understanding of biblical war texts.
As noted, the authors also do the reader a great favor by interacting extensively with the various schools of thought regarding war and violence in the Old Testament (Tremper Longman and Greg Boyd come up in the footnotes quite a bit, as well as Paul Copan). The authors have a very even-handed approach, at times applauding various schools of thought while also pointing out some holes in their arguments.
Brimming with vital information and presenting the various viewpoints in an even-handed fashion, what is presented in this book has given me much to think about.
I find that Bloody, Brutal, and Barbaric? promotes a healthier understanding of the so-called “texts of terror” than evangelicals are used to buying into. While some respond to genocide in the Old Testament with “God is sovereign” or “humans are worthy of death,” or the anti-traditional stance of “God never commanded it,” the authors stubbornly resist easy quick-fix answers, rejecting either “liberal” or more “conservative” approaches that end up leaving many questions unanswered. Rooted heavily in the world of the Bible, this is the best resource on violence in the Bible that I have come across.