2014-04-12

Shalom As Hegemony

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

fightingwordsI 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.

The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.


If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!


9 thoughts on “Shalom As Hegemony”

  1. I’m glad, and not surprised to see Avalos doing further research on this issue; he mentioned the use of the word ‘shalom’ briefly in ‘The End of Biblical Studies’, (Chapter 6:Biblical Thelogy: The Pathology of Bibliolatry > Liberation Theologies).
    If this is book is even close to that of his earlier work, he’s done a good job.

    1. I have yet to complete his book but so far the one reservation I have is that Avalos appears to identify the religion of people with their texts as opposed to what people themselves believe. I don’t think most Christians today, for example, really believe that to obey Jesus they must, as per Luke 14:26, hate their parents, wife and children, brothers and sisters. Undoubtedly the fact that this command is in the Bible does allow room for people to justify hating their parents, but I don’t see the relevance of that for those who (however incorrectly) refuse to accept the literal meaning of the text.

      1. I understand your caution; problem is, how do we ascertain (certainly for pre-exile scriptures) whether the majority were in accordance with the text?
        All we have is the bible; outside of texts archaeology seems to indicate a religiously pluralistic society….if that helps.

        1. With respect to what the “real religion of the people” is I was thinking of today — I don’t believe too many Christians believe they should take all their text literally. As for the past, I’m fascinated by explorations into the origins of the texts. I suspect the texts we view as the OT did not exist as a body of literature till the second century BCE.

          Before then, the native inhabitants, the peasant farmers, whose generations could be traced back to pre-Babylonian times (those who once made up part of the kingdom of Judah) found themselves occupied by forced immigrants under Persian direction. These became the ruling elites who took control of the Temple-economy and were the intellectual founders of what became Judaism. How well they tolerated or did not tolerate the indigenous peoples and how much of their religious ideas they incorporated we can only vaguely know. And how long it took for the “inhabitants of the land” to eventually become even aware of the products that emerged from the intellectual debates and literary creativity of the immigrants we don’t know. Perhaps it was not till the Maccabean era that some sort of religious cohesion made itself felt.

          Too many questions . . . .

  2. The following is a corrective comment from Dr Avalos sent to me (Neil) re the above post:

    RE:”I have yet to complete his book but so far the one reservation I have is that Avalos appears to identify the religion of people with their texts as opposed to what people themselves believe. I don’t think most Christians today, for example, really believe that to obey Jesus they must, as per Luke 14:26, hate their parents, wife and children, brothers and sisters. Undoubtedly the fact that this command is in the Bible does allow room for people to justify hating their parents, but I don’t see the relevance of that for those who (however incorrectly) refuse to accept the literal meaning of the text.”

    My position is a bit more nuanced than that. As you know, in The End of Biblical Studies, I actually argue that most of the Bible is IRRELEVANT precisely because Christians don’t follow most of it, but only a selected number of texts.

    I argue that Christians pick and choose WHICH texts are going to be held relevant. Yet, the few texts they do follow and put into effect can have great consequences.

    So, the fact that Christians still CLAIM to use a TEXT to authorize their behavior is as important as, or more important than, WHICH text they choose (e.g., Luke 14:26).

    The appeal to supposedly revealed textual authority exists as a principle regardless of how little the text is used. And that appeal to textual authority is where a significant problem in generating religious violence still resides.

    1. My own background brings a slightly different perspective to this particular point, although it also coheres with your broader point made elsewhere that there are no verifiable objective means of deciding whose selection of certain texts over others is valid. There are indeed a few (too many in real terms) who do justify hating parents in the sense that they leave their homes and cut off all contact with them after they join a cult.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.