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What a Mennonite Theologian’s Quietist Reading of the Hebrew Bible Gets Wrong

In his influential book The Politics of Jesus, the prominent Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder (1927-1997) put forward a Christian case for pacifism and abstinence from politics. Unlike other pacifist Christian thinkers, Yoder did not wish to ignore or reject the Hebrew Bible; rather, in a series of separate essays, he argued that it be seen as a story of the education first of mankind, and then of the Jews, in pacifism—preparing them, in his view, for the purely nonviolent message of the Christian messiah. Peter Leithart identifies the flaws in this approach:

Yoder read the Old Testament as a history of Israel’s maturation. Fundamentally, it is a pedagogy in faith, beginning with the call that cut Abram off from all natural means of support. It is also a pedagogy in a particular kind of warfare, . . . in which Israel depends on God as the warrior who will fight its battles. By the end of the Old Testament period, Israel has no armies of its own and is forced by the circumstance of exile to rely on God alone. Jesus [then] takes up the mantle of Jeremiah, urging his disciples to seek the peace of the city and not to take control of the empire themselves. . . .

[T]here are fairly glaring oversights and weaknesses in Yoder’s work. His account of kingship, especially David’s, is one-sidedly negative. . . . And [the exiled Jews] were hardly non-violent: Yoder cites Esther several times as an example of faithfulness in exile, but he ignores Mordecai’s effort to organize an armed resistance with the permission of the Persian king. At several points, in short, Yoder’s telling of Israel’s story clashes with the canon.

More globally, Yoder [creates an exaggerated distinction between] wars fought by God and wars fought by Israel in a way that the Bible does not. At times, Israel does nothing and watches God defeat its enemies. Other times, Israel fights in faith while God defeats its enemies. I wonder if this betrays a more fundamental flaw in Yoder’s theology, a tendency to treat divine-vs.-human action as a zero-sum game.

Besides, the story of maturation could be told differently: growing up might mean that the kids learn to fight alongside daddy, rather than watching him handle all the bad guys. There is plenty of biblical evidence for this narrative line.

Read more at First Things

More about: Christianity, Hebrew Bible, Pacifism, Religion & Holidays, Theology

 

The Palestinian National Movement Has Reached a Point of Crisis

With Hamas having failed to achieve anything through several weeks of demonstrations and violence, and Mahmoud Abbas reduced to giving rambling anti-Semitic speeches, Palestinian aspirations seem to have hit a brick wall. Elliott Abrams explains:

[Neither] Fatah [nor] Hamas offers Palestinians a practical program for national independence. . . . [The current situation] leaves Palestinians high and dry, with no way forward at all. Whatever the criticism of the “occupation,” Israelis will certainly not abandon the West Bank to chaos or to a possible Hamas takeover. Today the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state is simply too dangerous to Israel and to Jordan to be contemplated. . . . There are only two other options. The first is the “one-state solution,” meaning union with Israel; but that is a nonstarter that Israel will reject no matter who is its prime minister. The other option is some kind of eventual link to Jordan.

In polite diplomatic society, and in Palestinian public discourse, such a link cannot be mentioned. But younger people who visit there, Palestinians have explained to me, can see a society that is half-Palestinian and functions as an independent nation with a working system of law and order. Jordanians travel freely, rarely suffer from terrorism, and [can vote in regular] elections, even if power is ultimately concentrated in the royal palace. The kingdom has close relations with all the Sunni states and the West, and is at peace with Israel.

The fundamental question all this raises is what, in 2018, is the nature and objective of Palestinian nationalism. Is the goal sovereignty at all costs, no matter how long it takes and even if it is increasingly divorced from peace, prosperity, and personal freedom? Is “steadfastness” [in refusing to compromise with Israel] the greatest Palestinian virtue now and forever? These questions cannot be debated in either Gaza or the West Bank. But as Israel celebrates 70 years and the “occupation” is now more than a half-century old, how much longer can they be delayed? . . .

The catastrophic mishandling of Palestinian affairs by generations of leaders from Haj Amin al-Husseini (the pro-Nazi mufti of the British Mandate period) to Yasir Arafat and now to Mahmoud Abbas has been the true Palestinian Nakba.

Read more at Weekly Standard

More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, Israel & Zionism, Jordan, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinians