Does the Hebrew Bible Sanctify Mass Murder… and Disregard the Resulting Trauma?
December 7, 2022
by Terri Daniel, DMin, CT, CCTP
Excerpted from the Grief2Growth Podcast – Nov. 9, 2022
At the 2022 Conference on Death, Grief and Belief, attendees had the privilege of listening to a presentation by grief counselor and religious scholar Dr. Jamie Eaddy. She made a point that was mind-blowing to me, and as a religious scholar myself, I was shocked that I hadn’t noticed it before. My paraphrasing of her talk could never do it justice, so you can listen to it yourself HERE. In short, she poses the question, “does the Hebrew Bible sanctify mass murder and disregard the resulting trauma?”
In summary, Dr. Eaddy said that in biblical stories where innocent human beings experience unimaginable horror and trauma (and there are lots of stories like that), their grief and their response to the trauma is never addressed. Many of these stories involve mass murder, beginning with God killing everybody on earth with a worldwide flood, and continuing through a succession of horrific events involving genocide, rape, infanticide and an assortment of other crimes against humanity. These acts were either carried out by soldiers who were commanded to do so by God, or committed directly by God himself to establish his dominance and power. Regardless of who held the smoking gun – or why – these crimes left individuals, communities and nations in ruin, and the grief of the people would have been monumental, historic, and perhaps most importantly, transmitted through the generations to come. But other than some guidelines about death rituals and mourning customs, the scriptures don’t speak about the grief responses of the people who suffered at the hands of an abusive god-figure in his insatiable lust for unconditional worship.
Destroying the entire world with a flood was only the beginning. As history marched on, first-born sons were slaughtered, cities decimated, tribes exterminated, crops destroyed, children murdered, virgins raped… but never does this sadistic god acknowledge the pain he’s caused in his campaign for dominance over the other popular gods of the time. After each one of these stories, there should have been another 27 verses about the crying and wailing of the mothers, the suffering of the wounded, the process of caring for the dead and the rebuilding of shattered lives.
But there’s nothing. Nothing to acknowledge that these events were bad and people were hurt. No teaching about how to tend to individual or community grief, how to support a traumatized population or how to begin the work of healing and restoration. What we’re left with instead is a message from this god that is eerily similar to what an abusive parent might say to a cowering child… “I do these things because I love you, and I know what is best. Now go get me a beer.”
Dr. Eaddy’s talk reminded us of these foundational truths, which grief and trauma counselors know well:
If trauma isn’t named or identified, it becomes normalized, and we can become desensitized to it.
If grief in a family, a community or a culture isn’t addressed, it remains as an unhealed wound for future generations.
Those who closely embrace the Hebrew scriptures, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim, are part of an inherited legacy of unresolved grief and trauma. As descendants of Abraham and his son Isaac, we are carrying the trauma of a terrified little boy whose father tried to kill him. Yes, of course these stories are fictional, but myth has power, and we are taught from early childhood that these myths are supposed to form our moral core. If we are raised on stories of loss and trauma without also being given the tools for healing, we become a culture of walking wounded. If these stories about our “spiritual” history are presented only from the perspective of the self-righteous perpetrator, and the voices of the victims are never heard, then we ourselves become the perpetrators, because we have normalized – and spiritualized – violent behavior.
It’s not much of a stretch to see how this can be applied to today’s world. Mass shootings are almost a daily occurrence in America, yet Christian nationalists think that banning assault weapons will impinge on their personal freedom. It is not much of a stretch to postulate that perhaps, way down deep in the subliminal sub-consciousness of generational trauma, there’s a belief that says, “Mass murder is acceptable to God, because he did it all the time.” And could this thinking also apply to the way some people disregard climate change? After all, if God was justified in flooding the whole planet in a fit of rage, destroying crops and changing rivers to blood, then in some weird twist of the evangelical imagination, is our poor stewardship of the natural world excusable?
In religious scholarship, we no longer refer to the “old” and “new” testaments. We call them instead, the “Hebrew scriptures” and the “Christian scriptures.” This is now considered the culturally sensitive, politically correct characterization of these texts. To see them as old vs. new implies that the new one replaced the old one; that the new one is better or more relevant, which could be seen as a dismissal or diminishment of Jewish theology.
But the fact is, the image of God did get better in the Christian scriptures. Instead of genocide, we were told to love our neighbors. Instead of a bloodthirsty warrior god, we now have a god of peace. At least that’s the image that was expressed through the words of Jesus (although we have no historical evidence that Jesus ever actually said the words that were attributed to him). While we’re talking about Jesus, consider this… if Yahweh’s point of view did not take into account the suffering of humanity, Jesus’ point of view would have been exactly the opposite. He would have been on the side of the victimized, focused on healing their traumatic wounds rather than on the domination of one tribe over another.
The violence in the Hebrew scriptures may make believers uncomfortable, but they accept it without question because it was ordained by the unassailable father of all creation. And father knows best.