I am currently absorbed in reading Hector Avalos’s book Fighting Words: The Origins of Religious Violence. It’s giving me a lot to think about. Avalos challenges perspectives relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Islamic religion that I have often posted on this blog. It is too soon to post anything revisionist but I have just finished a snippet I can share in the meantime.
Self-serving translations are mostly responsible for representing the Hebrew shalom as “peace” in many instances in the Hebrew Bible.(Kindle, location 2178)
Hector Avalos shows us that both the etymology and use of the word in the Hebrew Bible relates to imperial dominance rather than benign relationships. He cites Gillis Gerleman:
Gerleman notes that the piel intensive, with some 90 occurrences in the Hebrew Bible, is the most frequent of all the verb forms of the root. Te normal Qal (ground) form occurs 8 times, the Hiphil (causative) form about 13 times. The noun form occurs some 240 times. The overwhelming meaning, whether as a verb or as a noun, is usually “repayment,” “reward,” or “retaliation.” (citation: page 4 of Gerleman, Gillis. “Die Wurzel [šlm].” Zeitschrift für die Altestamentliche Wissenschaft 85 (1973): 1-14.)
Take Job 22:21
Agree with God, and be at peace.
What is the meaning of “peace” here? Is it not “reward” or “payment”?
Look at Deuteronomy 32:35
Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; because the day of their calamity is at hand, their doom comes swiftly.
The word for “recompense” is shillēm.
Then try Deuteronomy 20:10-11
When you draw near to a town to fight against it, offer it terms of peace.
It if accepts your terms of peace and surrenders to you, then all the people in it shall serve you at forced labor.
That’s an unambiguous ultimatum, “Accept our terms of peace and be our slaves or die!”
Then there is that utopian Kingdom of Solomon portrayed in 1 Kings 4:24
For he had dominion over all the region west of the Euphrates from Tiphsah to Gaza, over all the kings west of the Euphrates; and he had peace on all sides.
Peace is clearly the peace of the dominant imperial power.
Job again, 25:2
Dominion and fear are with God; he makes peace [shalom] in his high heaven.
Whether speaking of the rule of God or Solomon, peace is defined as submission to the dominant power.
What of the idyllic future envisioned in Isaiah 9:7?
His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onward and forevermore. The zeal of the LORD of hosts will do this.
Peace in the Hebrew Bible means slavery or payment of tribute to the conqueror.
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