Monday, April 7, 2014

Against Violence

Though Judaism was shepherded through history by many violent military figures like Joshua and David, the Pentateuch had some strong things to say against violence, possibly as early as the 1400s BCE.
The prophet Isaiah, writing around 700s BCE, described a perfected future where "They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore."
- "A History of Nonviolence" in Occupy Comics #3
by Caleb Monroe and Theo Ellsworth

Occupy Comics is an anthology series of short stories and essays about the Occupy movement and related themes. Some deal with the causes of and responses to the financial crisis. Some cover the impact the economic downturn has had on everyday citizens. Others explore the motives and lives of members of Occupy Wall Street. Noting the movement's tendency towards peaceful protest, Caleb Monroe and Theo Ellsworth offer a short, yet insightful, history into the idealism of nonviolence.

Perhaps surprisingly, they start with the Old Testament. I say this because, especially in comparison to the sacrificial love of Jesus touted in the Gospel, the Old Testament is more often known for its violence and violent heroes. Indeed, those who expected the coming messiah to overthrow the Romans probably believed he would be another Joshua or David come to lead Israel's military forces.

But even the Lord's fondness of David couldn't get past the obstacle that was David's life of violence. The great King David had planned to build a temple to the Lord, but God nixed that idea. "David said to Solomon, "My son, I had planned to build a house to the name of the Lord my God. But the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 'You have shed much blood and have waged great wars; you shall not build a house to my name, because you have shed so much blood in my sight on the earth (1 Chronicles 22:7-8 NRSV)."

The famous sixth commandment says plainly that "Thou shalt not kill." We, as a species, are rather rubbish at that one. Actually, we're rubbish at adhering to all the commandments. It appears as a straightforward edict against capital crimes. But, perhaps underlying that is the foundation of all the ethical principles of Judeo-Christian teaching: The Golden Rule.

"You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord (Leviticus 19:18)."

When Jesus is asked what the greatest commandment is, he includes this in his answer with loving the Lord with everything a person has. "On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets (Matthew 22:40)." The New Oxford Annotated Bible includes a footnote on this verse relating the similar response of Rabbi Hillel, who reportedly said "What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor; that is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary; go and learn it."

The Golden Rule. That is the whole Torah. Love your neighbor. The rest is commentary.

Nonviolence. Go and learn it.

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