Quaker Universalist Voice

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Not Understanding God’s Violence

A Book Review of L. Daniel Hawk, The Violence of the Biblical God: Canonical Narrative and Christian Faith (2019)

L. Daniel Hawk, The Violence of the Biblical God: Canonical Narrative and Christian Faith (2019) seeks to explain divine violence in word, advocacy, and action in the testimony of the Bible.  The result is a thorough analysis of the Biblical text regarding divine violence and a soft conclusion that we do not understand.  We must take the lead regarding violence as best we can.

The author thoroughly analyses the relevant Biblical texts and identifies and evaluates several proposed explanations for divine violence (and, by implication, human violence) and the advocacy of violence in the Bible:

  • Evolution:  The evolution of insight from older texts are primitive expressions of religious consciousness that developed into newer, peaceful understanding.
  • Supersession: The advent of Jesus and the Christian tradition rejected the divine violence of the stories in the Hebrew Bible.
  • Justification:  The violence attributed to God is justified by the clear wickedness of the identified and targeted enemies.
  • Many Voices: The Hebrew Bible reflects many fragments of stories, which must be recognized as such and embraced as part of the fragmented Biblical tradition.
  • Misunderstanding 1: The divine violence is actually only an effort to separate Israel from their enemies. Cultural distance was the goal, not killing.
  • Misunderstanding 2: The Biblical divine violence is all talk and little action, a matter of poor vocabulary and style over substance and harm. The reality of divine violence was very small.
  • Integration: The native people of the Biblical land were voluntarily converted and incorporated into the Jewish community. Few were actually displaced.
  • Ineffectiveness: God engages in the history of Israel, but is ineffective and produces a mess, rather than a peaceful outcome.
  • Salvation: The divine violence is a necessary means for accomplishing the salvation of Israel.
  • Compromise:  The divine violence is a necessary deviation and compromise by God of God’s ethical standards.

The author reads the scriptures as providing a narrative of God attempting to bring about the redemption of God’s people from the inside of the community and then from the outside of the community.  Neither strategy works well in the Biblical narrative. All divine efforts are unsatisfactory despite God’s good intentions. None of the divine violence mistakes compromised God’s identification with Israel.

The major problems with these human efforts to explain the divine violence in the bible include:

  • False Stories: The human temptation to create hypothetical stories to harmonize the divine violence of the Bible with the reader’s beliefs and preferences.
  • Triumphalism: Jesus’ redemption of humanity from the ancient violence of the Hebrew Testament permits us to feel superior and unaccountable for divine violence.

The author rejects both approaches.

This close analysis of the Biblical texts pushes readers to consider their general understanding of Biblical texts identified as scriptures and the nature of the authority attributed to them in understanding reality (faith) and our conforming behavior to Biblical standards (practice).

There is no confident solution to understanding divine violence offered in this book, despite the careful analysis of the texts.  The Christian author leaves the reader with a general, and somewhat vague, sense of the universalism of the divine violence dilemma, the equality of all people before God (including Israel), and the recognition that humans are left to build structures and mechanisms for strengthening a peaceful global community.

The author offers a subject index, an author index, a scripture index, a select bibliography, and a helpful preface.

Quakers:  There is no mention of Quakers in this book.


  • How do Quakers look to the Bible for understanding violence?
  • How does the Quaker peace testimony relate to divine violence of the Bible?


  • L. Daniel Hawk, The Violence of the Biblical God: Canonical Narrative and Christian Faith (2019)
  • L. Wener, Blood Oil: Tyrants, Violence, and the Rules that Run the World (2018)

J. Diamond, Upheaval (2019)

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