This morning I finished reading John Collins’ Does the Bible Justify Violence? It is a very short monograph that (obviously) seeks to answer the question contained in the title.
Pros of Does the Bible Justify Violence?
First off, I think this little book has some important points to make, though I am sure they are made elsewhere. It is simply that this text is trying to make these points on a more popular level. Some people tend to give a privileged status to the Bible that makes them uncritical of it. Some of what Collins does may break that down a bit, which I think is good thing. As one example, he discusses the September 11th attacks and how many people were appalled at the idea that someone could find legitimation for such acts in a sacred book. Many people who think this way, however, are Christians who do not realize that their own sacred text has been used to legitimate violence without stretching the text much. Among others, Collins takes examples from the history of European settlers of America and their statements about the Native Americans being “Canaanites.” The settlers are taken to be “Israel,” and the language, quite clearly taken from the Book of Joshua, was intended to legitimate violence against the Native Americans.
Two further advantages of the book are its brevity and its bibliography. The book is a quick read. I’m not even sure if it took me more than about an hour and a half to read. Of course, this means that some things are going to be oversimplified, yet the book has a pretty thorough bibliography for those who want to do further study.
Cons of Does the Bible Justify Violence?
As far as problems in the text, I feel at some points Collins does not give due diligence toward some of Niditch’s work in War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence. He is quite clearly conversant with her work; however, I think that anyone who reads Collins would also do well to read Niditch (which I also found to be a pretty quick read). Part of the problem is that Collins is using the term violence very broadly, whereas Niditch goes into more detail on classifying the types of violence that one finds in the Old Testament.
Second, in some places the text puts on a little too much of an air of certainty. Of course, certainty, or at least some level of it, is not necessarily a bad thing; however, Collins attacks the concept of certainty toward the end of the book. Yet I sometimes felt as though Collins was stating some ideas as unarguable conclusions. Perhaps this has a great deal to do with the length constraints of the book. Rather, than certainty perhaps it was just oversimplification in places.
Overall, I would recommend the book.