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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

 

Hannah Arendt, Adolf Eichmann, and the Jews

Feb. 23 2018

In 1963—a year after Adolf Eichmann’s sentencing by an Israeli court—reports on the trial by the German-born Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt appeared in the New Yorker and were soon published as a book. This “report on the banality of evil,” as the book was subtitled, outraged many Jews, including many of her erstwhile friends and admirers, on account of her manifest contempt for the entire preceding, her disgust for the state of Israel, her accusation that a wide array of European Jewish leaders (if not the majority of the victims) were complicit in their own murder, and her bizarre insistence that Eichmann was “not a monster,” or even an anti-Semite, but a mindless, faceless bureaucrat. While extensive evidence has been brought to light that Arendt was wrong both in her claims of Jewish passivity and her evaluation of Eichmann as the head of the SS’s Jewish section, her book remains widely read and admired. Ruth Wisse comments on its enduring legacy:

When Arendt volunteered to report on the Eichmann trial, it was presumed that she was doing so in her role as a Jew. . . . But Arendt actually traveled to Jerusalem for a deeper purpose—to reclaim Eichmann for German philosophy. She did not exonerate Nazism and in fact excoriated the postwar Adenauer government for not doing enough to punish known Nazi killers, but she rehabilitated the German mind and demonstrated how that could be done by going—not beyond, but around, good and evil. She came to erase Judaism philosophically, to complicate its search for moral clarity, and to unseat a conviction [that, in Saul Bellow’s words], “everybody . . . knows what murder is.”

Arendt was to remain the heroine of postmodernists, deconstructionists, feminists, relativists, and internationalist ideologues who deny the stability of Truth. Not coincidentally, many of them have also disputed the rights of the sovereign Jewish people to its national homeland. Indeed, as anti-Zionism cemented the coalition of leftists, Arabs, and dissident minorities, Arendt herself was conscripted, sometimes unfairly and in ways she might have protested, as an ally in their destabilizing cause. They were enchanted by her “perversity” and were undeterred in their enthusiasm by subsequent revelations, like those of the historian Bernard Wasserstein, who documented Arendt’s scholarly reliance on anti-Semitic sources in her study of totalitarianism, or of revelations about her resumed friendship with Martin Heidegger despite his Nazi associations.

At the same time, however, the Arendt report on the Eichmann trial became one of the catalysts for something no one could have predicted—an intellectual movement that came to be known as neoconservatism. A cohort of writers and thinkers, many of them Jews from immigrant families who had turned to leftism as naturally as calves to their mother’s teats, but who had slowly moved away from the Marxism of their youth during the Stalin years and World War II, now spotted corruption and dishonesty and something antithetical to them in some of their very models of the intellectual life.

They and their Gentile colleagues had constituted the only European-style intelligentsia to flourish in America. Most of them were only one generation removed from Europe, after all, so what could be more natural than for them to serve as the conduit of European intelligence to America? Arendt’s ingenious twist of the Eichmann trial showed them how Jewish and American they actually were—and how morally clear they aspired to be.

Read more at Commentary

More about: Adolf Eichmann, Hannah Arendt, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Neoconservatism, New York Intellectuals