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God of Love, God of War, trying again - Input Junkie
March 6th, 2014
08:05 am


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God of Love, God of War, trying again
In my previous entry, I raised a question, and it hasn't been answered by my usually alert and intelligent commentariat, though various interesting comments have been posted.

dcseain pointed out that I'd raised a bunch of other issues after I'd asked my question, and that made it harder to focus on the question.

What I'm trying to find out what the Jewish answers are to the Christian claim that Christians have a God of Love which is better than the Jewish God of War.

I have some further thoughts on the subject, but I'll put them in a separate post.

This entry was posted at http://nancylebov.dreamwidth.org/1037279.html. Comments are welcome here or there. comment count unavailable comments so far on that entry.

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[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2014 03:49 pm (UTC)
Is there some Christian apologetic document that actually lays out this “God of Love vs. God of War” thesis, with proof texts? If I had that in front of me, I could look up some of the traditional Jewish interpretations of the same texts.

In the absence of anything like that, just winging it, I would say: the Jewish God is both universal (creator of the universe) and tribal (brought the Jews out of Egypt and has a particular legal code just for us). In His tribal capacity, so to speak, he allocated a certain territory to the Jewish people and commanded us to take this territory from its then-inhabitants in a war of conquest that was, by modern standards, brutal. But outside of that commandment of conquest, I don’t see anything especially war-like about Him. It’s not like He endorses war for its own sake.

The Christian God, by contrast, is entirely universal, presenting a doctrine that is supposed to be followed by everyone; Jesus gave his apostles the commission to go out and convert everyone to Christianity, and Paul said that Jewish converts to Christianity don’t have to concern themselves with following (most of) traditional Jewish law. There is nothing explicitly in the Christian scriptures that encourages Christians to spread their religion through warfare, but then again, at the time that those scriptures were written, and anyone in Roman territory advocating such a thing would have been literally crucified for sedition. And once Christianity became a religion with political clout behind it, Christians had few scruples about spreading their religion at sword-point.

Rather than Love vs. War, one might be on firmer ground by saying that the Christianity is more focused on intellect and emotions (including love) than Judaism, and Judaism is more focused on the vagaries of physical existence (including warfare) than Christianity. Cf. Daniel Boyarin’s excellent book Carnal Israel.
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2014 04:12 pm (UTC)
Thanks. I've never seen the God of Love vs. God of War claim laid out formally, though a formal version certainly might exist.

It's possible that the GoL/GoW claim isn't used by Christians to proselytize to Jews, it's just a thing Christians say to each other. In that case, it's less likely that Jews have worked up an answer to it.

A book which looks interesting, but that I haven't read: Anti-Judaism-- it's a history of the version of Judaism that Christians invented so as to argue against it.
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2014 06:17 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure whether, as an atheist ex-Christian, I should be saying anything here, but just as a data point, I've never run into a Christian claim that the Christian and Jewish God are two different gods in any sense, or that Christians and Jews see the same God as a GoL and GoW respectively.
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2014 04:30 pm (UTC)
It's not something I've ever seen formalized. If you like, I can run the idea past my nephew, the ordained minister, and ask if he ever encountered it either in divinity school or in religious circles. He's a Navy chaplain with friends who include Jewish chaplains. He might have something.
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2014 04:42 pm (UTC)
I've never myself encountered the notion that Jews follow a "God of War"; I confess surprise -- though not my area of specialty, I've been exposed to plenty of passing antisemitism in medieval music, and that's not come up.

In fact I can't recall a single example of any Christian suggesting their god is better than the Jewish god, I presume because their fundamental contention is that it is the same god -- it's just they're better worshippers, more faithful & more correct in their knowledge of god and his will.

ETA: It is in fact so wildly off the spectrum of how I understand Christians to understand Christianity and it's relation to Judaism, that I have to wonder if it was actually from an actual Christian (sounds mostly like an atheist's strawman, tbh), and if so, I'd like to know which denomination/tradition it comes out of.

ETA2: Though it was traditional to depict Judaism ("Synagoga") as a woman wearing a blindfold (ignorance) and a broken spear (vanquished?) in, hmm, 12th-13th cen I think?

Edited at 2014-03-06 04:54 pm (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2014 08:39 pm (UTC)
It's not a God of Love and a God of War, it's God of Love, God of Wrath, or sometimes God of Justice. I don't think most Christians are still learning this! I read a very nice book of essays by Marilynne Robinson in which she discusses who among Christian theologians is still making this kind of supercessionist, anti-Jewish characterization of the Hebrew bible. I reviewed it on my journal here. (Some relevant discussion in the comments to the post, also.)

I have never read a Jewish response to the Christian characterizations of Judaism and Tanakh. I have read other Christians, including George Eliot, defending Judaism against Christian anti-Judaism, as Marilynne Robinson does in the book I referenced. That doesn't mean there is none. It is not possible to be truly widely read in that literature!

Jewish midrashic readings of divine behavior always work to reconcile God's various qualities. If you just read the Rashi on the parashah every Saturday, you get a sense of how well that works for various darshanim. Liturgically, we call on God to be all those things: merciful, vengeful, forgiving, and so on. But I don't think these are responses to Christian views. We have enough trouble trying to understand God on our own.
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2014 09:51 pm (UTC)
I think I've also seen God of Law.

I've only heard this sort of thing occasionally, and the most recent iteration didn't include a defense of Christianity.

Thanks for mentioning that this sort of thing exists. I was beginning to wonder if I'd hallucinated it.
[User Picture]
Date:March 6th, 2014 11:39 pm (UTC)
I think the extent of anti-Jewish theological positions has to do with what's happening in the world. After WWII, you weren't going to see a lot of Christian theologians attacking the Jewish roots of Christianity . I'm talking Protestants now, not Catholics, since their theological position on Jews changed in a big and visible way with Vatican II. I think for most adults today who were raised Christian, anti-Jewish theological ideas sound really out there and crazy, not Christian at all.

But, now that the Presbyterian Church has had this big internal controversy about whether and how much to divest from Israel, we're seeing more anti-Jewish theology. It's a weird kind of thinking, like, "I don't like what some Jews are doing right now, therefore, I will revert to old arguments about how Judaism has been superceded by Christianity, and how the Torah gets God all wrong, and so on."
[User Picture]
Date:March 19th, 2014 06:03 pm (UTC)
Here's something for you:

Note that she mentions Judith Plaskow's essay, "Feminist Anti-Judaism and the Christian God," which I think I read at some point. There's also an essay online by Susannah Heschel. I suppose that both of these could be construed as Jewish rebuttals to Christian views of Jewish ideas of God, if that makes sense.
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