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War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence [Paperback]

By Susan Niditch (Author)
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Item description for War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence by Susan Niditch...

Texts about war pervade the Hebrew Bible, raising challenging questions in religious and political ethics. The war passages that readers find most disquieting are those in which God demands the total annihilation of the enemy without regard to gender, age, or military status. The ideology of the "ban," however, is only one among a range of attitudes towards war preserved in the ancient Israelite literary tradition. Applying insights from anthropology, comparative literature, and feminist studies, Niditch considers a wide spectrum of war ideologies in the Hebrew Bible, seeking in each case to discover why and how these views might have made sense to biblical writers, who themselves can be seen to wrestle with the ethics of violence. The study of war thus also illuminates the social and cultural history of Israel, as war texts are found to map the world views of biblical writers from various periods and settings. Reviewing ways in which modern scholars have interpreted this controversial material, Niditch sheds further light on the normative assumptions that shape our understanding of ancient Israel. More widely, this work explores how human beings attempt to justify killing and violence while concentrating on the tones, textures, meanings, and messages of a particular corpus in the Hebrew Scriptures.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Oxford University Press, USA
Pages   192
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.29" Width: 5.52" Height: 0.53"
Weight:   0.51 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Jun 29, 1995
Publisher   Oxford University Press
Edition  Revised  
ISBN  0195098404  
ISBN13  9780195098402  

Availability  142 units.
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More About Susan Niditch

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Susan Niditch is Samuel Green Professor of Religion at Amherst College in Amherst, Massachusetts. She is the author of many books, including "Oral World and Written Word: Ancient Israelite Literature", part of the acclaimed Library of Ancient Israel series.

Susan Niditch currently resides in the state of Massachusetts. Susan Niditch has an academic affiliation as follows - Amherst College.

Susan Niditch has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Library of Ancient Israel
  2. Old Testament Library
  3. Semeia Studies

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Sociology
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Bible & Other Sacred Texts > Bible > Hebrew
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Criticism & Interpretation > Old Testament
5Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > General
7Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Judaism > General
8Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Judaism > Sacred Writings > Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) > Commentaries
9Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Judaism > Sacred Writings > Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) > Criticism & Interpretation
10Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Judaism > Sacred Writings > Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) > Study
11Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Ethics

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Reviews - What do customers think about War in the Hebrew Bible: A Study in the Ethics of Violence?

Peace and non-violence ideology should fit more in Christian Theology!  Jul 3, 2006

War Ethics/Theology:
Professor Niditch fresh examination of the narratives on war in the Hebrew Bible allows Westerner readers to evaluate how much has changed in the views on war since ancient times to the 21st century ongoing 'War on terror.'
Understanding of war and its ethical issues, the nature of which is vast in scope, must consider the Hebrew Bible as a starting point. The Hebrew Bible preserves a tradition that continues in an unbroken connection from a period of time and has been used as a justification to all stances on the moral question of war throughout history. Obviously, God is not against all wars, and since Jesus is always in perfect agreement with the Father (John 10:30), so we cannot argue that war was only God's will limited to Old Testament times, since God does not change (Malachi 3:6; James 1:17). Yet, in NT Jesus blessed peace makers, calling them the Sons of God, while war was always considered a result of sin (Romans 3:10-18)

Vengeance as Command:
In the Hebrew Bible, the LORD God ordered the Israelites to: "Take vengeance on the Midianites for the Israelites" Numbers 31:2, "However,... do not leave alive anything that breathes. Completely destroy them--the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites--as the LORD your God has commanded you." Exodus 17:16 proclaims, "The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation." Also, "Go and completely destroy those wicked people, the Amalekites; make war on them until you have wiped them out." 1 Samuel 15:18.
In a recent thesis to Harvard University, Mark Hamilton states,"War songs such as (Song of Moses,) Exodus 15 and (Song of Deborah,) Judges 5 are very archaic Hebrew and celebrate Israelite victories from the time preceding the Israelite monarchy under David and Solomon. However, most of the other biblical texts are somewhat later. And they are edited works, collections of various sources intricately and artistically woven together."

Justifying Violence:
War narratives that pervaded the Hebrew Bible suggested to Marcion of Sinope that the God of the Old Testament is different from the loving Father of whom Jesus spoke in the New. Those texts continue to raise difficult questions about social and confrontation ethics, that you encounter on many issues in our violent times. Niditch struggled to give answers to those primitive ideologies, by reviewing the entire display of biblical wars, analyzing their writers ideologies, to find out if they made sense then on total annihilation of the enemy without regard to gender, age, or military status. Her examination, assumptions, and tools are sophisticated, utilizing anthropology, comparative ethics, and literary criticism hoping to justify the adverse attitudes in her complicated case through exploring the history of violence, killing and terror from Joshua to Samson. But the 'ban' ideology remains a very violent proto type of ethnic cleansing. However, it is only one among a range of attitudes towards war preserved in the Hebrew scripture literary tradition.

Niditch feminist tinted epilogue quotes Rabbinic tradition and Midrash to contradict ancient scripture with post-biblical Judaic literature that even enjoins pity for the enemies. She concludes that such ideology of peace and non-violence should fit more in Christian theology! She describes the ban as a sacrifice for a (Pagan) God who appreciates human sacrifice. If pagan enemies are totally annihilated because of their sins, so what about innocent babies? She concludes, "A society under siege, Israel must be purified and cleansed of contaminating influences. Hopefully the whole of civilized nations follow pace.
Great History, Little Theology  May 21, 2006
In the Old Testament there are seven different ideologies of war (why and how did the Jews wage war).
1)The Ban as God's Portion.
The word "ban" or herem (hrm) is the slaying of men, women and children, as well of livestock. It includes destruction of cities and cultural artifacts, with no survivors left behind. In this particular ideology, herem is not just to destruct, but to devote to destruction: it is a vow, a consecration, a setting apart and a sanctifying for God. Thus, it is not necessarily incompatible with life-affirming ethics; it regards the victims with respect (I noticed a parallel here with the Aztecs' view of sacrifice). The idea was probably borrowed from neighboring civilizations. See for instance the famous MESHA INSCRIPTION (p.31), in which the Moabite king Mesha sacrificed Israelites to his god Kemosh, just as the god instructed him.In most cases the invocation of herem comes from military leaders, not from God.

2)To root out what is regarded as impure, sinful forces hurting the relationship between Israel and God: the Ban as God's Justice. in this context, the enemy is demonized and reified as "the Other," "them."

3)Priestly Ideology of War.
No destruction of cities or enemy goods.

4)Bardic tradition of war.
War as sport, game, quest for glory. Stick with a warrior code.

5)Ideology of tricksterism.
(War ethic of the underdog)

6)Ideology of Expediency.

7)Ideology of non-participation.

I bought and read the book to clarify some theological doubts as to whether God really ordered the slaughter of Israel's enemies. However, Niditch did not dwell on such matters and developed her research topic from a strictly historical point of view.My questions are still unanswered.

An awesome study in Old Testament War mentalities  Jan 2, 2005
Niditch opines that Old Testament perspectives of war do not take on an evolutionary or linear development. These perspectives of war co-exist side by side, overlap, and sometimes contradict each other. Niditch names seven perspectives on war, and, using an interdisciplinary approach, interprets how each perspective identified and molded Israel's self-understanding. The 'ban as sacrifice' is similar to a quid pro quo deal with God: all of the lives of the enemy (humans being the most sacred creation) for their land. The 'ban as justice' roots out abhorration of those who worship other dieties. The 'priestly attitude' towards war is similar to the 'ban as justice' but intwines purity concerns. The 'bardic testaments' on war glorify warriors and courage and institute themes of dueling and taunting. The 'trickster perspective' allows for the powerless to decieve those in power in order to achieve military agendas. 'Wars of expediency' allow for anything to be done to approach objectives, while the 'non-participation perspective' (different from non-violence) teaches not do participate in war, becuase Yahweh will do the dirty work.

Niditch's book is methodically researched and takes an objective approach to scripture. She does not exonerate God in some of the more disturbing passages, but explains what the scriptures actually say. At times her writing style leaves something to be desired, but overall, her work is enlightening and provocative.
The book on this subject  Aug 5, 2000
Susan Niditch has produced an invaluable study of a vital subject. This is not, however, primarily a book about the ethics of war, which draws upon the resources of Hebrew Bible to address a modern topic. The subtitle is, therefore, a bit misleading. This is a thorough examination of biblical texts on warfare using Niditch's own reformulation of tradition-history. It functions as a brilliant updating of the work of Gerhard von Rad on Holy War. She is able to bring the developments of the last several decades, including some contemporary literary observations which combine well with her tradition-history perspective, into the discussion. To her credit, Niditch does not hesitate to challenge and correct the venerable von Rad when necessary. Of course, the end product has much to say about the problem of war in our own time. It does so indirectly, but not inadvertantly. Those hoping for a discussion of the ethics of war need to be prepared for a deep dive into the Hebrew Bible and a long journey through it before coming up for air. Nevertheless, it is a journey well worth the effort.
This book is extremely informative, but often hard to read.  Nov 10, 1998
A reader seeking a resolution of the ethical contradiction implicit in a just and loving God who demands the total annihilation of those that oppose his arbitrarily adopted people groups will probably be disappointed. She states that such an inquiry is beyond the range of this book. She does, however, offer a complex identification of the various implementations of warfare in relation to God, and she suggests some well justified theories as to their particular sources and cultural contexts that gave rise to each of the trajectories. The material for engaging in an exploration of the ethical paradox of the Merciful God versus the Destroyer God exists in this book, and the library of reference material furnishes a field for beginning an inquiry of this kind. This book helps us in our study of the Old Testament because it supplies a means of identifying various literary systems of violent passages and a method of analyzing these systems. It also provides an extremely rich portrayal of the warring facets of Hebrew culture that is helpful in understanding the culture as a whole. I personally learned a great deal not only about the Old Testament's approach to violence but also about intensely academic and technical writing in general. All of this knowledge will be useful to my study of the Old Testament as well as any further contact with similar writing.

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