Monday's Messianic Taste of Hidden Manna #53



Monday's Messianic Taste of Hidden Manna #53

Matthew Lynch's 'Portraying Violence in the Hebrew Bible'

One Short Lesson: The Violence of Arrogance in the Tower of Babel Story


Today's Takeaway

"So in Babel, God gave humanity the gift of failure. In the immortal words of [the Psalmic hymn of Miriam, the mother of Yeshua Messiah], 'He has displayed strength with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in the plans of their heart'" (Luke 1:51).


Portraying Violence in the Hebrew Bible

One of the finest scholarly reads during this pandemic has been Matthew Lynch's 2020 "Portraying Violence in the Hebrew Bible: A Literary and Cultural Study". First, Lynch's research attains to what Abraham Joshua Heschel rightly called 'genuine interpretive insight'. Lynch seems to keenly understand that "it is in being involved with a phenomenon, being intimately engaged to it, courting it, as it were, that after much perplexity and embarrassment we come upon insight—upon a way of seeing the phenomenon from within. What has been closed is suddenly disclosed. It entails genuine perception, seeing anew". Lynch successfully helps us to see the Tanakh's (Torah, Prophets, & Writings) own portrayal of violence from its own inherent perspective to the extent humanly possible.


A Scholarly, But Pleasant and Easy to Read Book

Second, Lynch's book attains to the important goal of perspicuity. That means it achieves the goal of being very clear and precise. I am specifically referring here to the fact that the book was written in the 'ideal style' that is marked by being pleasant and easy to read. Thus, page after page the reader rightly thinks that they are making progress, securing something for themselves, and finding that some conclusion has been reached (see Aristotle, 'Art of Rhetoric' 3.9.3).


Not a Book About the Topic, But Rather a Guided Tour of the Tanakh on the Topic

Third, it is not a book about the topic, but rather a guided tour of the Tanakh's (Torah, Prophets, & Writings) own treatment of the topic. The opening sentence is eloquent if not elegant, and speaks to the changes in perspectives about violence from antiquity to the present. In scholarly terms, that's known as a 'diachronic' approach. So Lynch's goal in this book is to explore the differences between the Tanakh's own approach to violence and the Western ones, so that we don't read the Western perspectives onto the Scriptures. Following the opening portion of the introduction, Lynch then lays out the points of entry for his book. The preeminent point of entry is the text's own framework and descriptive categories when it comes to portrayals and critiques of violence at work in the Tanakh itself. Again, Lynch labors assiduously to distinguish between these and legitimate contemporary concerns about violence. In fact, he allows the living and abiding Word of God, God's Spirit, and wisdom to be the means by which we may understand the relevance of his research findings for our contemporary horizon. This is clearly evidenced in his August 5, 2020 blog post entitled "An Ecological Grammar of Violence" at cateclesia.com.


Three Sections of This Book, Alone, Make It a Precious Stone Amidst the Clay

Three sections of this book, alone, make it a precious stone amidst all the clay. First, there is the entirety of 'Part I' of the book. It is devoted to the relationship between God, humanity, and the earth in general; and God, His People, and the Land in particular. Second, there is the chapter on "The Violence of Arrogant Speech" (see below). Third, there is the chapter on "The Outcry of Violence". Moreover, one of Lynch's most sobering findings is that interpersonal violence tears into the seamless fabric that links human beings in general to their environment, and God's people Israel in particular to the Land, and threatens the order of creation itself. Thus, because human beings and the earth in general, and the people of God and the Land in particular, are in solidarity with one another, we should not be surprised to learn that when humanity acts in violence, the earth/Land itself responds as an active agent in mourning and/or protest! This point provides serious substrate for the deep thinker (i.e., phrontist) who clearly sees the Biblical aim of ethics.


The Violence of Arrogant Speech

Arguably, one of the most important contributions of this study is the chapter entitled "The Violence of Arrogant Speech". As Lynch rightly observes, arrogant speech is a form of violence. On this topic, I will extensively quote Lynch in order to further inspire you to read the book in its entirety: "Arrogance drives the violent toward public assertions of their strength, or vicarious participation in the violence of those with actual strength. The arrogant assume a stance of (violent) victory over the weak, and by boasting plant their victory flag firmly and publicly in dominated territory. In this sense violent boasting is not simply bragging about an immoral deed, it is a claim to territory, whether another person's body or the whole of a land".


"The violent scheme and craft violence in secret. But that hiddenness already bears an arrogant presumption—that God does not see or hear their activity, or that God will not protect those who have submitted themselves in service to Him. That once-secret violent ambition then drives toward a public expression of power in the form of boasting, taunting, and reproaching, at which point the violent overstep and overreach. They lay claim to God's dependents, and in so doing arouse His wrathful protection (Psalm 94)".


One Short Lesson: The Violence of Arrogance in the Tower of Babel Story

As his final exploration of the link between arrogance and violence in the Tanakh, Lynch turns his attention to the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11. In his discussion of the unified language of humanity at that time, Lynch rightly emphasizes the fact that humanity at that time "suffered from a shared delusion of grandeur, a bad case of 'group think'". He then correctly notes that "the story of Babel details the failure of imperial ambition—encapsulated in humanity's desire to 'make a name' for itself (Gen 11:4). In sharp contradistinction he shows that the prophet Micah calls the city of Zion 'a tower of the flock [of Israel]', suggesting that the fortified Ophel embodied the city's purpose for all Israel (Mic 4:8). This contrast of Zion to Babylon is of course seen as inherently linked to the portrayal of YHWH Himself and His Name as a strong tower (see, e.g., Psa 61:2 and Prov 18:10)". If truth be known, this contrast of cities and towers continues as a theme throughout the Scriptures—all the way to the final contrast between New Jerusalem and Babylon in the Book of Revelation!


Some Conclusions About the Tower of Babel Story

As Lynch rightly observes, one of the conclusions of the text itself regarding the Tower of Babel, then, is that it was a project designed to mimic or challenge the 'security' of God, but with potentially dangerous outcomes. Thus, Jeremiah rightly declared the word of the LORD: "'Though Babylon should mount up to heaven, and though she should fortify her strong height, from Me destroyers would come upon her', says YHWH" (Jer 51:53). Thus, Lynch correctly holds that a corollary conclusion (a conclusion that follows) is that the themes of self-preservation and protection account for the Babel project just as much as arrogance, and may be seen in tandem". Again, I will largely quote Lynch here: "The desires for self-preservation and protection took a particularly pernicious form when combined with a collective drive for recognition (a name), memory, and security. The fear of violence (like the fear that incited Cain to found the first city as told in Genesis 4) gave birth to a desire for name recognition—or branding, in modern parlance".


"It is thus obvious why the writer of Psalm 55 would plead with YHWH to 'divide' the tongue or heart of the enemy. For the Psalmist, violence is symptomatic of a heart that is fundamentally treacherous against another. But notice that the Psalmist frames the problem in terms of arrogant speech (Psa 55:13). To plot is arrogant, and for them to succeed would be tantamount to their exaltation. While the horizontal sin of violence is deplorable, the psalmist perceives that arrogance is the chief 'vertical' affront to God".



God Gave Humanity the Gift of Failure in Order That He Might Be Their Strong Tower

"God quickly disabuses the Babelites of their fanciful plans. Kass observes that 'people are often best chastened and instructed by showing them vividly the previously hidden meaning of what they thought they wanted'. God confuses its builders' ability to 'devise'—a root cause of urban violence. The very things that brought humans together—the promise of security and the desire for fame (i.e., a name)—were the very things that ultimately drove them apart. God recognized that 'this is only the beginning of what they will do; now nothing that they plot to do will be withheld from them'" (Gen 11:6b).


"So in Babel, God gave humanity the gift of failure. In the immortal words of [the Psalmic hymn of Miriam, the mother of Yeshua Messiah], 'He has displayed strength with His arm; He has scattered those who are proud in the plans of their heart'" (Luke 1:51).



May the wisdom of God open our eyes to the lessons here for us!


In your service always, Henri Louis Goulet


With deep indebtedness to Matthew Lynch, whom I have extensively quoted above, for making such a wondrous contribution to the field of Biblical Studies and all those who profess to know and love the one true God, YHWH, and the one whom He sent, Yeshua Messiah.

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