Conversation Guide #15: The Pela as a Model for Inclusive Peacebuilding – by the late Simon Ririhena

In his book The Clash of Civilizations, Samuel P. Huntington posited the thesis that cultural and religious identity (Christian West and Islam) are the sources of conflicts. Conflicts which, according to him, are irreconcilable. In the Moluccas, the Pela, an alliance between Christian and Muslim villages, among others, shows the opposite.

The Pela

The strength of the Pela lies in their pre-monotheistic Nunusaku or Ambon religion. Both groups (Muslims and Christians) are aware of their common origin on the invisible mountain Nunusaku. The first Moluccans, their ancestors, lived there. The story goes as follows: when a girl was murdered one day, the gods sent the people away in two groups. Moluccans call this banishment Heka Nunusaku (Heka: to separate). One group was a union of nine (Uli Siwa) and the other a union of five (Uli Lima). From the beginning, there was animosity between the two groups, which often degenerated into bloody fights over scarce goods such as rich fishing waters and fertile land between two villages. After the fighting stopped, the two villages met to make peace and hold a Pela ceremony. In the ceremony, both Rajahs, village chiefs, made a cut in the palm of their hand and let a few drops of blood flow into a bowl of strong drink (sageru = rice wine). After the two Rajahs drank from the bowl, everyone present took a sip from the bowl, and from then on they were brothers and sisters, Pela. At the ceremony, the ancestors were invited to witness the covenant and ensure that the rules and the promises, which had been sworn to, were observed. Violations would be punished. With the conclusion of the Pela, the war was over. The word Pela literally means to stop immediately and later it acquired the meaning of covenant. The Pela is also called Leka Nunusaku (Leka: to bring together, to unite), a vehicle to repair what had gone wrong on the invisible mountain Nunusaku on the island of Ceram.

The Pela rules must be strictly adhered to. The rules are as follows: 1) Pelas help each other for better or for worse. For instance, when building a big project like a church or a mosque, but also  when there are natural disasters. 2) Always keep promises. 3) If a Pela asks for something, for example food or a place to sleep, don’t refuse. 4) In the hard Pela, members are not allowed to marry each other (exogamous), because they have “the same blood” in their veins. It is considered incest.

Moluccan Adat and Christian-Muslim Relations

For centuries, Muslim and Christian Pelas have lived peacefully alongside and with each other. The basis for their common world and human view was anchored in their Nunusaku or Ambon religion. After the advent of monotheistic religions, one Pela village chose Islam and the other chose Christianity. They saw these as just two variables of Nunusaku religion. What prevailed over religious differences was their common origin and interpersonal relationships. The emphasis on the common resulted in a loose form of horizontal syncretism between Christians and Muslims. What role and significance Pela played in the kerusuhan, in the civil war, is illustrated by the case of two nearby Pela villages: the Christian village Buano Utara and the Muslim village Buano Selatan. The former is the larger of the two. In the 1999–2002 fratricidal war, sparked in part by the Central Indonesian Government and the Indonesian military, the old Adat institutions (traditional law) proved unable to withstand regional, national and international influences. After Buano Utara attacked its Pela village, an epidemic later broke out  in Buano Utara. Many members of both villages saw in it an intervention of the ancestors. The young people have a different explanation. The epidemic must be set against the worldwide developments in the field of diseases. In so doing, they push aside their ethnic identity and their loyalty to the Adat institutions. The Buano elders believe that the core of the problem is the fact that young people study outside the region. When they return, they find that the traditional institutions are no longer appropriate to the modern age. Despite the different views, the vast majority of Buano and the other Pela villages in the Moluccas believe that the revaluation and strengthening of the Adat institutions, such as the Pela, can promote cooperation between communities and between different faith groups and reduce tensions and conflicts.

 

Questions

  1. What do you see as the strength and weakness of the Pela?
  2. Can the Pela serve as a model for inclusive peacebuilding in conflict areas elsewhere in the world (apart from the Moluccans)? In what way?
  3. Do you think the Pela model works effectively in conflicts between Abrahamite faiths? How?
  4. Might awareness of a common origin of human beings play an important role in conflict resolution? Why / why not, and how?
  5. Imagine a specific element of your own worldview / theology that can play a significant role in potentially preventing conflict.
  6. How might the biblical-theological concept of covenant (berith / diatheke) broaden and deepen Pela and vice versa? Do you see any relevance of this concept for situations nowadays?

 

About

This summary belongs to a more extensive article of the late Simon Ririhena, which can be found here: The Pela as Model for Inclusive Peacebuilding.
Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.

 

Conversation Guide #14: Canaan and the New World – by Eleonora Hof

This article argues that we have much to learn from Native American theologians when finding constructive ways to deal with the topic of exclusion in our faith practices. Native American theologians read the Biblical texts about the conquest of Israel from an existential perspective, since they are all too intimately aware of the disastrous result of the conquest of the Americas. The conquest, settlement and drive towards extinction of Indigenous Peoples was partly fuelled by theological arguments, derived from the conquest by Israel of Canaan. In order to understand the current Biblical interpretations of Native Americans, we need therefore to first take into account the hermeneutical foundation on which the conquest was based.

Canaan and the New World

After the “discovery” of the Americas, Europeans had to grapple with the meaning of the encounter with people who differed in so many ways from what they had previously experienced. The conquest of the Americas was also a theological and hermeneutical endeavour of meaning-making. Through deliberate theologizing, First Nation people became othered as “heathen”. (Within the article I discuss various strategies that aided this identification as “heathen.”) The idea of God’s providence was fundamental in crafting the legitimization for conquest. It was seen as God’s providence, for example, that the English, who lived in cramped cities, had suddenly the possibility to expand to the enormous, vacant land of North America. Obviously, the land was not vacant, but rather densely populated, but the wilderness myth nevertheless became a foundational myth. The religious practices of the indigenous peoples were seen as irredeemably pagan, and they came to be identified with the inhabitants of Canaan, while the settlers identified themselves with the new Israel.

Indigenous Theological Contributions

Indigenous thinkers today still wrestle with the legacy of Biblical interpretation by the colonial settlers. They utilize various strategies to reinterpret the Biblical texts.

  • Some thinkers discredit the biblical texts altogether. For them, the damage that has been done is too severe to be able to be repaired. Whether or not the conquests described in the book of Joshua really took place or not, the fact of the matter remains that the ideology of the Bible writers actively condoned and espoused an ideology of conquest. For victims and survivors of genocide, this makes the Bible damaged beyond repair. I suggest that we should take this approach seriously, and not discredit it too easily, because we should give proper attention to the pain that lies behind it. If we can take the losses seriously and not gloss over them too quickly, we can incorporate the practice of lament. Lament grieves for the wrongdoings and confesses the sins of a hegemonic biblical interpretation. We grieve because we have lost brothers and sisters to a hermeneutic of exclusion.
  • The second reading approach interprets the Bible in a way that is both Christological and true to indigenous concerns. Many evangelical readings fall in this category, since they stress the primacy of Christ for reading the Bible.
  • The third reading approach reinterprets specific biblical passages, while abandoning other passages. The Bible is read with indigenous frameworks in mind. Feminist indigenous readings of the Bible belong in this category.

Where do we go from here?

When reading exclusionary texts like Deuteronomy 17 with indigenous concerns in mind, they acquire a new urgency. I argue that people who read the Bible through the eyes of faith should be serious about reflecting on our hermeneutic. All hermeneutics that aid oppression need to be denounced and are consequently false, since they are not true to the life-affirming message of the gospel. Not all ruptures might be mended, not all wounds can be healed, at least not in the present age. We need to be mindful of the true costs of exclusionary readings of the Bible, since reading the Bible is not just an intellectual pursuit, but has real world consequences. Although the Netherlands and Belgium do not have an indigenous population in the same way as, for example, the United States, Canada, New Zealand or Australia do, we still have to confront our legacy of colonialism. We still have to reckon in our society with racism and exclusion on the basis of heritage. The voices of Native American theologians are therefore indispensable to enter into a specific hermeneutical dialogue with Dutch Christians from formerly colonized nations to hear about the way they have experienced exclusion and/or inclusion.

Questions

  1. Do you recognize that you often chose the perspective of Israel and not the perspective of the conquered peoples when reading the Bible? How would it influence the way you read the Bible if you changed your perspective?
  2. One of the authors discussed in the article claims that the texts of conquest in the Bible are not a “bug” but a “feature.” In other words: they are not a lamentable mistake, but are integral to the biblical message. How do you evaluate this statement?
  3. How would your Bible reading change if you were to read the Bible “together with all the saints,” including the believers who have great difficulty with certain passages since they have been used to legitimize violence?
  4. How would our mission practices change if we radically adopted the perspective of indigenous peoples?
  5. Do you think there is a way that we could incorporate lament in our church practices? How?

 

About

This summary belongs to a more extensive article of Eleonora Hof, which can be found here: Canaan and the New World: Native Americans Engage the Legacy of Exclusionary Readings.
Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.

Conversation Guide #13: Exclusionary Texts in ‘A Common Word’ – by Gé Speelman

In Muslim-Christian encounter, exclusionary texts both from the Qur’an and the Bible play a role. Often, Christian authors have tried to give their interpretation to Qur’anic texts about religious others. Also, Christian authors try to understand biblical texts about people who do not follow Christ.

The same is true for Muslim authors. How do they interpret their own Scripture, especially the Qur’an, and how do they interpret Christian scriptural texts about religious others, that might be read as exclusionary texts?

A Common Word

In October 2007, an open letter entitled ‘A Common Word Between Us and You’ was sent by 138 Muslim scholars to 27 Christian Church leaders. The sending of this letter was part of a carefully planned media-event. The letter was published on the internet (www.acommonword.com), as were the subsequent reactions by church leaders and others.

The appeal to Christians to enter into dialogue with Muslims in A Common Word is supported by a theological argumentation that uses texts from the Qur’an, Hadith and Bible. The authors of A Common Word stress the common ground between Biblical and Qur’anical texts. They claim, using as their starting point Jesus’s double commandment (love of God and of the neighbour) as their frame, that the core message of the Qur’an and Hadith is not essentially different from the Christian core message. They hope to set up conversations and forms of cooperation between Muslims and Christians worldwide on the basis of the structural similarities between their sacred Scriptures.

Exclusionary texts are common, both in the Bible and in the Qur’an. In both Scriptures, there are many texts distinguishing good people from evil people, and groups of faithful believers from groups of unbelievers. The former are walking with God, whereas the latter are excluded from the community of the faithful. In this sense, many sacred texts offer the opportunity to exclude contemporaries or fellow citizens from the in-group. The presence of such texts is not surprising. It is the use of each text, their interpretation in the present context that is of importance.

How do the writers of A Common Word deal with such exclusionary texts? In order to answer this question, I will look in more detail at one verse quotes from the Qur’an, and then at the way the authors interpret three texts from the Gospels.

The interpretation of Sura 3:64

Building on this assumption of common ground, it is argued on the basis of the Qur’an, that people of the Scripture should come to a common word. This is supported by the quotation of sura 3: 64:

Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word between us and you: that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him, and that none of us shall take others for lords beside God. And if they turn away, then say: Bear witness that we are they who have surrendered (unto Him). (Āl ‘Imran 3:64)

This is potentially an exclusionary text, and has often been so explained  in the Islamic tradition. According to many Muslim exegetes, the admonition to come to a ‘common word’ assumes that the Jewish and Christian contemporaries of Muhammad did, in fact, ascribe a partner to God (the Christians) or that they took others for lords besides God (the Christians and the Jews). So, the turning away of Muhammad’s conversation partners in sura 3:64 apparently is the expected outcome of the conversation. The ‘we’ in the clause ‘We are they who have surrendered’ consists, according to the traditional exegesis of this passage, of the group of Muhammad’s followers: they are the true worshippers who have surrendered (aslama) to God and are therefore ‘muslims’ (muslim is  the participal derived from the infinitive of the verb aslama, to surrender). The writers of a Common Word, however, give a slightly different interpretation to this potentially exclusionary text. They connect the clause ‘that we shall worship none but God, and that we shall ascribe no partner unto Him’ to total devotion to the one and only God, a devotion they also see in Christians.

For the second injunction, ‘that none of us shall take others for lords beside God’, the writers of A Common Word follow the exegesis of the classical scholar Al-Tabari, who says that this part of the text should be read as an injunction ‘that none of us should obey in disobedience to what God has commanded, nor glorify them by prostrating to them in the same way as they prostrate to God’. The writers of A Common Word see this as an appeal for believers to follow the dictates of their own conscience instead of submitting to coercion from religious authority. Jews, Christians and Muslims, they write, ‘should be free to each follow what God commands them, and not have “to prostrate before kings and the like”.’ Political pressure to accommodate the majority belief in a society is out of the question, because that would mean a submission before ‘kings and the like’, instead of an assent out of free will to serve God and God alone. To reinforce the implication that this part of 3:64 is dealing with freedom of conscience, the writers of A Common Word make a connection with a Qur’anic quotation from sura 2:256: ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’ And this quotation is in turn linked by them to the second biblical commandment ‘love your neighbour as yourself’. The implicit reasoning that underlies this arrangement of texts is that justice and love of the neighbour are closely connected, and that freedom of religion is an important component of justice. The beginning of the verse ‘Come to a common word between us and you’ can be interpreted, as indeed Tabari does, as meaning to ‘come to a just (ādil) word between us and you’, making the verse into a call by God to cooperate for the sake of justice. Thus, a traditionally more common exclusionary interpretation of sura 3:64 is transformed into a plea for freedom of religion.

The interpretation of Mark 9:40, Matthew 12:30 and Luke 11:23

The authors of A Common Word also pay attention to possibly exclusionary texts from the New Testament. They quote from three passages from the Gospels and discuss these texts (ACW, p. 15).

Is Christianity necessarily against Muslims? In the Gospel Jesus Christ says:
He who is not with me is against me, and he who does not gather with me scatters abroad. (Matthew 12:30)
For he who is not against us is on our side. (Mark 9:40)
… for he who is not against us is on our side. (Luke 9:50)
.

Here the writers of A Common Word put in juxtaposition one possibly exclusionary text (Matthew 12:30) and two possibly inclusionary texts (Mark 9: 40 and Luke 9: 50). How to combine the messages of these texts? Are the Gospels in contradiction with each other? In traditional polemics between Muslims and Christians, Muslims accuse Christians of falsification of their scriptures (tahrīf). Internal contradictions between Gospel texts is an argument that plays a major role in these polemics. The authors of A Common Word do not refer to this background in their analysis. Rather, they assume that there must be an underlying reason for the apparent contradiction, and try to clarify it.

In order to do so, they make use of the Christian commentator Theophylact of Ohrid (1055–1107).  This commentary is very popular in Eastern Orthodox churches. Theophylact reasons that there is no contradiction between the three gospel texts. They only address different contexts: ‘The first statement (in the actual Greek text of the New Testament) refers to demons, whereas the second and third statements refer to people who recognised Jesus, but were not Christians.’ (ACW, p15)

The argument of Theophylact goes as follows. In Matthew 12, Jesus is in discussion with the Pharisees who accuse Jesus of using the power of Satan to drive out demons. The answer of Jesus is referring to the demons themselves (they are not for Jesus, therefore against him) as well as to the Pharisees (they are the ones who scatter abroad, and who sin against the Holy Spirit by assigning Jesus to the realm of Satan). The text excludes not only demons and Satan, but also those who emphatically deny the divine power of Jesus. In Mark and Luke on the other hand, Jesus is in conversation with his disciples who are troubled because another person has driven out demons in the name of Jesus, but refuses to join their company. In these texts, there is an inclusion of outsiders, but under certain conditions. Those outsiders are speaking in the name of Jesus, that means that they do not deny His divine powers but align themselves with them, without becoming fully-fledged members of his movement. The authors of A Common Word are connecting these benevolent outsiders with Muslims. Like the healers in Mark and Luke, Muslims to some extent acknowledge the divine powers of Jesus without becoming part of the Christian community. In this way, an inclusionary text from the Gospels is interpreted as potentially also including Muslims. They write:

Muslims recognize Jesus Christ as the Messiah, not in the same way Christians do (but Christians themselves anyway have never all agreed with each other on Jesus Christ’s nature), but in the following way: ‘…. the Messiah Jesus son of Mary is a Messenger of God and His Word which he cast unto Mary and a Spirit from Him….’ (Al-Nisa’, 4:171). We therefore invite Christians to consider Muslims not against and thus with them, in accordance with Jesus Christ’s words here. (ACW, p. 15)

The writers of A Common Word here open up the inclusion of Muslims in the group of people who are ‘not against and thus with’ Christians, at the same time affirming the enduring differences between Muslims and Christians when it comes to the nature of Christ. A remarkable feature of this passage is that so far, both the terms ‘Muslims’ and ‘Christians’ seem to refer throughout the document to stable and unified entities. Nowhere are there  signs of a recognition of the diversity and lack of consensus on some issues within both communities. But in this passage, there is a reference to Christian internal diversity. This diversity may create a space for Muslims – who generally do not acknowledge the divine nature of Christ – to include unspecified groups within the Christian communities within their religious in-group. It also opens up the possibility that among Christians there may be a movement of convergence with the Muslim viewpoint on the Divine nature of Christ. The religious other is seen as someone who resembles ‘us’.

Questions

  1. How do you interpret exclusionary texts in the Gospels? Would they hinder you from opening up to your neighbour who has a different religion or life stance?
  2. How would you explain the differences between Matthew, Mark and Luke in the passages above?
  3. What we see in A Common Word is a group of Muslim scholars interpreting three Gospel texts. In the movement of Scriptural Reasoning, where Jews, Christians and Muslims read together out of each other’s Scriptures, one of the basic rules is: Feel invited to explore others’ texts. And also invite others to explore your texts. (See: http://www.scripturalreasoning.org/guidelines-for-scriptural-reasoning.html) Would you agree with this rule, or would you argue that the Christian community is the ‘owner’ of the interpretation of the Gospel text, just as much as the Muslim community is the ‘owner’ of the Qur’anic text?
  4. Would you agree with the writers of A Common Word that stressing commonalities is a good starting point for Muslim-Christian encounter, or would it be more helpful to start acknowledging and exploring our undeniable differences in tradition?
  5. How could a group of Christians and Muslims begin to understand each other’s religious texts? What is needed for that understanding?

About

This summary belongs to a more extensive article of Gé Speelman, which can be found here: Exclusionary Texts in ‘A Common Word’.
Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.

Conversation Guide #12: Apostasy in Islam – by Razi H. Quadir

Apostasy in Islam is a sensitive and topical subject. In certain Muslim majority countries, apostasy is a punishable offence, including by the death penalty, even though some of these countries have embraced the Universal Declaration of Human rights, which guarantees freedom of religion. Apostasy in Islam or al-riddah (or al-irtidād) is defined as voluntarily renouncing Islam. A person who renounces Islam is called murtadd. There is no distinction in Islam between leaving, that is, apostasy, and conversion from Islam to another religion. Thus, whether a Muslim converts to Christianity, Judaism, or becomes an atheist, this all boils down to apostasy, and such a person is considered an apostate (murtadd). Nevertheless, in some cases, apostasy is more sensitive than in others. For example, in countries  inhabited by both large numbers of Christians and Muslims or Muslim countries with Christian minorities, the situation is extremely precarious when it comes to apostasy in Islam.

Legal Punishment for Apostasy in Islam

The overwhelming majority of both classical and modern scholars view apostasy as impermissible and consider it mandatory to put an unrepentant apostate to death. Whereas Muslim scholars differ about repentance, it appears that a majority find that the apostate should be given the opportunity to repent.

Although in the Qur’ān apostasy is viewed as a heinous sin, it does not mention any earthly punishment for it. Rather, it is up to God to judge the apostate in the Hereafter.

Although the Qur’ān appears to be quite clear on apostasy, namely, there is no penalty in this world, the Sunna is unequivocal about it. The Sunna, which is the collected teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, is known through the aḥādīth, that is, the reports of the Prophet deemed authentic. The Sunna encompasses his sayings, actions, and tacit approval.

The overwhelming majority of  Muslim scholars rely on the verbal ḥadīth “whoever changes his religion, kill him” (narrated among others by al-Bukhārī, ḥadīth no. 3017 and 6922) with the corollary that the apostate should be executed. This ḥadīth is considered authentic by the vast majority of Muslim scholars.

Another ḥadīth on which the proponents for capital punishment for apostasy in Islam rely and which is also deemed to be authentic by most Muslim scholars is the following:

The blood of a Muslim, who confesses that there is no God but Allah and that I am His Apostle, cannot be shed except in three cases: In Qiṣāṣ [retaliation] for murder, a married person who commits adultery and the one who reverts from Islam [apostates] and leaves the [Muslim] community. (Narrated among others by al-Bukhārī, ḥadīth no. 6878)

A Special Case: Female Apostates

The overwhelming majority of classical and modern Muslim scholars do not distinguish between a male and a female apostate; both deserve capital punishment. Among these Muslim scholars are the founders of the current Sunni schools of law, Imam Mālik (d. 795), Imam alShāfīʿi (d. 820), and Imam ibn ḥanbal (d. 855). However, the founder of the Ḥanafi school of law, Imam Abū Ḥanīfa differentiates between male and female apostates. Although he too holds that a male apostate is to be executed, he argues that a female apostate should be imprisoned and invited back to Islam but never be killed. He argues that a female apostate is not active in combat or capable of warfare.

It seems that the Ḥanafī school of law views apostasy as a political crime. Females, older men, and hermaphrodites are, in their views, incapable of fighting and combating. Therefore, they form no danger to the community, even if they are apostates.

Apostasy as a Political Crime

Also, contemporary scholars who support capital punishment for apostasy conceive the apostate as someone who is disloyal to the Muslim community and forms an imminent threat to this community. The apostate is also viewed as someone who causes disintegration of the Muslim society, which cannot be accepted. In short, apostasy is viewed as a political crime.

Muslim scholars who object against the death penalty for apostasy

Even though the majority of both classical and modern Muslim scholars favour the death penalty for apostasy, some Muslim scholars are against it. The classical scholars Ibrāhīm al-Nakhaʿī (d. 713) and Sufyān al-Thawrī (d. 778) believe that the apostate should always be allowed to repent but never be executed.

Modern Muslim scholars who object to capital punishment for apostasy put several arguments forward. First, there are more than two hundred verses in the Qur’ān that emphasise freedom of choice, as the modern Muslim scholar Taha Jabir Alalwani (d. 2016) points out.

The second argument against capital punishment for apostasy is the earlier mentioned ḥadīth “whoever changes his religion, kill him”. This ḥadīth is a so-called solitary or aḥad narration that became prominent after the early period of Islam and was not known during the time of the Prophet. During the early days of Islam, it was a solitary ḥadīth and incompletely transmitted as well. Also, the chain of narrators (isnād) of this ḥadīth contains ʿIkrimah (d. 723), who was the slave of Ibn ʿAbbās (d. 687). From this stage, this ḥadīth got wide circulation. Some Muslims scholars consider ʿIkrimah as reliable, whereas others do not. Thus, the opponents of the death penalty  for apostasy consider this ḥadīth weak, and therefore this narration in their opinion cannot be used as evidence that apostasy merits capital punishment.

The third argument against apostasy that Muslim scholars put forward is that the Prophet never killed anyone for apostasy. Several narrations support this claim. The fourth and final argument against capital punishment is the assumption that apostasy goes hand in hand with hostility or taking up arms against the Muslim community. However, the argument that apostasy is tantamount to high treason, rebellion, or waging war against the Muslim community is in my opinion not valid today because an apostate can merely change their personal beliefs while still accepting the social order of the Muslim society in which they live. Furthermore, killing an apostate for simply the possibility of taking up arms or demonstrating hostility towards the Muslim community is treating this possibility as an actual fact. In Islamic jurisprudence, there has to be definitive proof for capital punishment as a divinely prescribed punishment; a mere possibility is not a sufficient cause for such a severe punishment.

 

Questions

  1. Can apostasy in Islam today still be considered a political crime?
  2. Should apostasy be considered a private matter?
  3. Should a distinction be made between a female and male apostate?
  4. Freedom of religion in general: what should be done when freedom of religion (which is a human right) collides with other human rights?
  5. Is the issue of apostasy unique in Islam, or does this also apply to other religions?

About

This summary belongs to a more extensive article of Razi Quadir, which can be found here: Apostasy in Islam: An Overview of Sources and Positions.
Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.

Conversation Guide #11: Al-walā’ w’ al-barā’ (Loyalty and Disavowal) – by Yaser Ellethy

The notion of al-walā’ w’ al-barā’ is entrenched in some classical and modern Muslim discourses as one of the tenets of creed that ordains a Muslim’s view and attitude toward ‘disbelievers’. The proponents of a doctrinal position of this notion in Islam utilise a certain reading of scriptural sources maintaining them as explicit and unequivocal enough to justify the coherence of this ‘creed’. Nonetheless, a thorough investigation of these scriptural justifications could reconstruct the credibility of this claim. In modern times, the “doctrine” of al-walā’ and al-barā’ was, and still is, enthusiastically used among militant groups to justify warfare activities, not only against non-Muslims but also against Muslims who are not in line with their “islam”. The question is whether this ‘theory’ can be established on explicit and unequivocal scriptural grounds and whether it can justify hate speech and practices against the “other”. This study is an attempt to find an answer to this question by examining Islamic sources as embodied in the Quran, the Sunnah and some classical and modern exegetic and legal works. It also tackles the issue of apostasy (ridda) and its possible liaison with disloyalty, which historically marked the question of freedom of religion in Islam, and still inspires contemporary writings and debates on Islamic exclusivism.

Definition

According to classical Arabic lexicons (Ibn Manzour, Ibn Faris), the term walā’ linguistically denotes proximity (qurb, from the stem w-l-y, among many other derivations and meanings), whether physically or emotionally, including being content with and following others as if one belongs to them (Q. 5:51; “who among you take them as awliā’ [allies, friends; pl. of walīy] is one of them”), support and help (nuṣra), love (maḥabba/mawadda)  and the derivative muwālā (alliance, friendship) which is to be seen as opposite to enmity (mu‘ādā). Technically walā’ means support, help, love and showing honour and respect to those in proximity or to likeminded people both inwardly and/or outwardly. In this respect, it concerns God, his messenger and the believers. On the other hand, barā’ means, in the context of our discussion, abandoning, severance, distancing oneself from, disavowal and denial of something/someone. Technically it denotes getting rid of and disavowal of, distancing and disassociating oneself from, and showing enmity to something/someone. Again, in this respect, it concerns the enemies of God, his messenger and the believers.

Does it belong to ‘aqīda (creed/doctrine)?

There is an established opinion among several mainstream Muslim scholars that the issue of walā’ towards believers and barā’ towards unbelievers and enemies of Islam belongs to the fundamentals of Islamic creed (‘aqīda). It is distinguished in the relevant literature as “the doctrine of loyalty and disavowal” (‘aqīdat al-walā’ w’al-barā’). The paradox of this take on the issue as part of ‘aqīda lies in the epistemological and methodological justifications and ethical scope of this doctrine. It is established in the legal Islamic theory of uṣūl alfiqh that its realm of research is strictly related to ‘practical rules’ (aḥkām ‘amaliyya) and does not include issues of ‘aqīda. However, in this case, the supporters of the ‘aqīda nature of the notion start with practical rules for dealing with certain groups and ideas considered to be anti-Islamic and incorporate them to the tenets of Islamic creed legitimised by scriptural texts. The question is whether this is a traditionally justified practice of the prophetic era and the following generations of righteous predecessors (salaf), which these supporters cherish as the pristine and pure source of Islam. Since the establishment of the first Muslim geopolitical entity in 622 C.E. the Medina Charter stated a strong bond of loyalty to the new established ‘state’ under the leadership of the prophet, including Jewish tribes and anyone else who joined the people of this Charter. This constitutional document refers to Jews and other partners as forming one umma with the Muslim believers. The same document stipulated that Muslims have their own religion and Jews have theirs, both parties are committed to defend or contribute to the defence of Medina and should not keep alliance with or help enemies of the people of the document. This meant that ‘loyalty’ can be a trans-religious bond based on values of social coherence, political consolidation and protection of national integrity beyond (non)denominational affiliations. In today’s national-state democratic constitutionalism, where citizenship shapes loyalties and disloyalties, Muslims and non-Muslims stand together in defence of their national integrity regardless of their different religious belongings. It is true that loyalty and disloyalty can entail a core notion in each faith system that distinguishes between belief and unbelief. However, the pluralistic Islamic view draws clear borderlines between credo and tractatio.

Scriptural justifications contextualized

Examining the scriptural texts (Q. 3:28, 118-119; 4:89, 139, 144; 5:51, 57, 8:72-73; 9:23; 58:22 and 60:1, 4, 8-9) and exegetic traditions shows how the relevant verses relate to situations of antagonism and enmity between believers and disbelievers and making right and wrong alliances in exceptional war and conflict contexts, as some Sunnah narrations on the reasons for revelation report. It is prohibited for Muslims in these cases to disclose their strategic confidential plans and/or seek support from disbelievers at the cost of their belief and co-believers thinking they will be protected. The Quranic narrative on the issue of loyalty and disavowal is thus, almost in all cases, related to situations of interreligious conflicts, competing coalitions and menacing amities with enemies where belongings and loyalties cannot be negotiable. The reasons for revelation clarify how hypocrites or in other cases some Muslims, deliberately or unintentionally, put the security of their state and the integrity of their faith at risk. This includes choosing the side of enemies, showing them amity and support and disclosing strategic secrets for the sake of protection, honour or power. The Quranic discourse stresses the obligations a) not to jeopardize public interests in times of wars and conflicts, b) not to take enemies as allies at the cost of religious and political loyalties, c) to stand firm in faith issues, d) to avoid hypocritical attitudes, and e) to be loyal to one’s religious category (Islam) which demands a Muslim deal kindly and justly with every ‘other’ beyond these exceptional cases. In this perspective, independently of faith affiliations, loyalties can converge for a ‘common good’, but disloyalties cannot be tolerated in cases of ‘common risk’.

Ridda (apostasy) as disloyalty

The jurisprudential evidences for apostasy in Islamic theology, unlike that of loyalty and disavowal, are extracted from the Sunnah and its narrated reports; the hadiths. The Quran affirms freedom of belief in more than two hundred verses. Several modern scholars have reconstructed the juristic reasoning on apostasy and have posed serious questions, partly on the authenticity and authority of the hadiths and partly on the ratio legis behind the punishment against it. Through the latter, they reflect on whether apostasy involves mere renunciation of religious belief, or has further implications for the Muslim community and state. In fact, the liaison between apostasy and disloyalty lies in the fact that ridda, in a premodern context, included disengagement from the community, change of allegiance and therefore enmity with the former socio-political context. It is the case, though, that the number of scholars who support the death punishment for every unrepentant apostate remains influential. The burden lies on the official fiqh and collective fatwa-councils to establish a politically binding theological substantiation of these controversial issues, especially when existing modern and classical authoritative reasoning forms a solid ground to build on.

 

Questions

  1. How are walā’ and barā’ defined in the Muslim tradition and how do these notions relate to the Muslim view of the ‘other’?
  2. To what extent does loyalty and disloyalty in Islamic tradition justify exclusivist attitudes?
  3. Which aspects of this view of the ‘other’ are comparable to Christian exclusivism?
  4. How is this view to be reconstructed in light of Quran and Hadith hermeneutics?
  5. What is the link between the loyalty-disloyalty theory and apostasy?
  6. How can the contextualisation of the interpretation of walā’and barā’ as suggested in this article be of help for those who are (considered as) apostates?

 

About

This summary belongs to a more extensive article of Yaser Ellethy, which can be found here: Al-walā’ w’ al-barā’ (Loyalty and Disavowal): Reconstructing a ‘Creed’ in the Muslim Hermeneutics of ‘Otherness’.
Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.

 

Conversation Guide #10: ‘Idolatry’ in Rabbinic Discussion – by the late Leo Mock

This article focuses on the concept of idolatry in online discourses of contemporary rabbis belonging to Israel’s Religious Zionist movement. What part do these tendencies, literary, rhetoric or theological, play in contemporary texts? Idolatry seems an archaic concept for (some) other religions and possible deviant behaviour from ‘insiders’. Considering the modern society and the recent rapid realisation of technological innovations and digital means of communication, one wonders if idolatry is still a relevant theological concept to relate to the religious other? In orthodox Judaism, contemporary texts are shaped by different historical-theological perspectives: the Shoah (retrieving lost traditions as mandatory), modernity and secularism may enforce conservative tendencies. Another important context is the foundation of the State of Israel in 1948 – Jews became a majority in a state with citizens of other religions.

Actualities

The concept of idolatry in contemporary discourse seems relevant considering some recent incidents against churches and clergy in Israel. A deeper analysis of these incidents is needed to determine the exact role of religious motives and political-ideological-social aspects. Moreover, in religious media on the internet, a negative attitude can be observed by rabbis on practical issues: for example, on using Christian calendar dating, prohibiting a visit to the Vatican Museum or the Jerusalem Festival of Light where churches and Muslim places are lit up. In fact, these opinions are almost all based on the views of one religious-zionist rabbi, Shlomoh Aviner, but similar statements by other rabbis may be found on orthodox sites as well. That orthodoxy is not always averse to a more lenient perception of the religious other is found in the Talmud bHullin 13b: “Gentiles outside of Land of Israel are not idol worshippers, but they are holding on to a traditional custom of their ancestors…”. In the Middle Ages and Modernity period different pragmatic views and theological concepts were developed for a more lenient attitude.

Contemporary Responsa texts

The rabbinic discourse is highly diverse, comprising amongst others codices, commentaries, sermons, novellae on the Talmud and pietistic-ethical literature. A useful source is the genre of responsa: a question that usually arises from real life addressed to a rabbi, which the rabbi is expected to answer. A helpful tool for analysing discourses is the Responsa Project of the Bar-Ilan University (version 26), digitising amongst others responsa of famous rabbis (not complete). A search for the term ‘idol worship’ in the last five to six centuries yields 1273 texts (the majority seems to be related to authors of the post-Shoah period). One should be cautious – the high frequency does not show the way it is used, whether it is a reference to the tractate on idolatry in Mishnah or Talmud, a side track in a different subject, or a theoretical question. These 1273 texts are too comprehensive for the scope of this article.

Other contemporary media: Internet questions

Kipa.co.il is an important online-portal for Religious-Zionism in Israel with articles on a wide range of topics, from news, romantic relationships, the parent-child relationship, food and culture to strictly religious issues on the ‘Ask-the-Rabbi’ page, where some twenty-five rabbis can be addressed.

The 103 questions on idolatry are mostly answered by rabbis, some by a peer-group ‘Listening Friends’ – some questioners appear to be young adults. The length of the responsa varies from a few lines to a sheet of A4. Fourteen of these responsa deal with Christianity, four with Islam/Druze religion, and seventeen with religions of the Far East. In general, the religions of the Far East are seen as most idolatrous, followed by Christianity which, with some nuances, is seen as idolatrous (‘some branches’ though are not), while Islam is seen as fully monotheistic. Ten questions deal with inner-Jewish issues like superstition, exaggerated veneration of rabbis in some groups, the Shoah and nationalism in relation to idolatry. The majority are of a halachic nature (25) or deal with general halachical concepts (24). Other questions show a strong personal perspective and reflection (9).

Some questions are related to ‘traditional’ aspects of idolatry (e.g., objects of Buddhism, Christian statues, Islamic symbols). Other questions relate to the here-and-now and show an interesting scope of possible applications of idolatry by some religious Jews in Israel. Central is the question of how to relate to the other-one, and to the other-culture, without compromising one’s own religious identity.

Discussion

Questions often refer to situations of being among other religious cultures while being abroad as a tourist or in the State of Israel in relation to minorities – the relation to Islam/Druze religion, Christianity. Some reflect the influence of the Eastern religions, culture and western lifestyles on present day Israeli society and touch on different perspectives on symbols of modern Western culture: jeans, piercings, movies, television, sport, and secular literature. The questions reflect a certain level of doubt, fear, and guilt towards secular symbols of modernity, that are, to a certain degree incorporated into the lifestyle of (many) believers. The answers offer a kind of coping mechanism for the psychological tensions in engaging with these phenomena. The answering rabbi is sometimes more lenient than the religious vision or mindset of the young adult.

Religious-Zionism

The last category of questions deals with the juxtaposition of the believer and adherent of Religious Zionism vis-à-vis other Jewish groups and certain aspects of Religious Zionism (national pride).

A question on nationalism (answered by ‘Listening Friends’) refers to doubts over whether being proud of being religious and part of the chosen people could possibly be idolatrous, given the importance accorded by Religious Zionism to nationhood. The answer differentiates between pride in someone’s own achievements and pride in being chosen by God, which is after all God’s choice, and the importance of remembering the destination and task of the chosen people in the world, as well as a call for developing national pride as reaction to the idea of ‘being as all the nations’. This last question and answer especially, positions the questioner vis-à-vis with secular Zionism (‘being as all the nations’), secular modernity – the non-Jewish world – and ultra-orthodoxy that rejects (religious) Zionism.

Preliminary conclusions

The internet responsa are a valuable addition to the written sources as they present matters from the mundane reality of everyday life, reflecting the easily accessible form of the Internet responsa. The discourse functions as a marker of orthodox religious-zionist Jewish identity of certain groups and presents two perspectives, an internal and external one. The external deals with contemporary western influences, the popularity of religions of the Far East, touristic encounters with the ‘religious other’ and the ‘religious other’ in the Israeli context (Christianity, Islam, Druze, Messianic Jews, Baháʼí). The internal deals with delicate religious queries about the Shoah, or how to deal with other (ultra-) orthodox movements and issues of religious Zionism.

These internet responsa texts make virtually no reference to the Bible – even references to earlier rabbinical sources are relatively rare; the discourse seems to have its own characteristic features. Further analysis of both written responsa and internet responsa is required to sharpen our perspective on these texts and in this respect, the observations offered here  are no more than preliminary reflections.

 

 Questions

  1. Does the concept of idolatry play a role in your own religion?
  2. Does idolatry play a role in your own personal religious views?
  3. Could idolatry be used in a positive way in a religious discourse?
  4. Do you think that Internet is the right medium to discuss these kinds of sensitive religious subjects?
  5. Could the concept of idolatry be relevant for secular people too?

About

This summary belongs to a more extensive article of the late Leo Mock, which can be found here: ‘Idolatry’ in Rabbinic Discussion: To Destroy, to Bury or Something Else? Some Observations of the Subject of ‘Idolatry’ in Rabbinic Questions and Answers on the Internet.
Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.

 

Conversation Guide #9: Hebrews, Deuteronomy, and Exclusion in the Early Church – by Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte

In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author of which is unknown, several warnings are found that aim at keeping the believers attentive inside their group. One passage is rather explicit in passing judgement on believers who leave the community of the faithful: Hebr. 10:26-31. The NRSV translates this passage as follows:

For if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgement, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has violated the law of Moses dies without mercy “on the testimony of two or three witnesses.” How much worse punishment do you think will be deserved by those who have spurned the Son of God, profaned the blood of the covenant by which they were sanctified, and outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know the one who said, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

Hebrews’ warning against apostasy

The author of Hebrews combines several references to Old Testament passages to point out that God is a judging God, who does not know mercy when it comes to fallen believers. In the course of history, the quoted passage has given rise to many discussions. How can any biblical author speak so harshly and pass a judgement this stern about people who fall away from their faith? Can such a judgemental, hard picture of God be combined with the idea that God is love? How is the exclusion of apostates to be matched with other pictures of God in the Bible?

Some receptions of Hebrews

The Epistle to the Hebrews contains quite a few calls and exhortations. On estimate, one third of the epistle consists of this type of admonition. Later ecclesiastical authors have picked up the warnings of Hebrews and interpreted them from within their own contexts. Clement of Alexandria and Origen, for instance, two important authors who wrote at the end of the second and beginning of the third centuries, took this passage literally and suggested a church in which there would be no place anymore for people who had “betrayed” Christ. Later, after Christianity in the fourth century first became a permitted religion and several decades later was even appointed state religion of Rome, authors have gone to great lengths to explain that apostasy is caused by the Devil: it is he who tries to lead people astray and keep them from living with God and Christ.

The exclusion of fallen believers in the Epistle to the Hebrews

From a modern perspective, Heb. 10:26-31 is a harsh text that raises numerous questions. Can believers in the twenty-first century still deal with this image of a judgemental God? Is possible at all to still use a term like “apostasy”? Can the borderlines of a faith community be drawn in the harsh style of Hebrews?

It may be a consolation to realize that this passage has been seen by many authors as problematic throughout the history of the church. Only a few authors have supported a literal interpretation. It is probably best to see these admonitions as a form of concern: concern that nobody may fall away from the community of believers. Yet this concern is phrased in a way that may be called sectarian: emphasizing the hard boundaries between the in-group and out-groups, between believers who stay in and those who leave is a characteristic that divides sects from other groups. This specific exhortation in Hebrews may, for that reason, be seen as sectarian in nature. Even this type of material is found in the Bible.

 

Questions

  1. Is the image of a judging God still to be upheld in the twenty-first century?
  2. Can we still use a term like “apostasy”?
  3. Hebrews warns the believers not to leave the community of faithful and threatens them with permanent exclusion from their salvation. Does it come as a surprise that a threat like this is found in the Bible?
  4. Should the Bible be interpreted literally or are their other ways of reading it?

 

About

This summary belongs to a more extensive article of Bert Jan Lietaert Peerbolte, which can be found here: Hebrews, Deuteronomy, and Exclusion in the Early Church.

Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.

 

Conversation Guide #7: Discerning the Body in 1 Corinthians 10 – by Peter Ben Smit

1 Corinthians 10 is a text clearly concerned with inclusion and exclusion. The key site of inclusion and exclusion in this text is the meal, especially the question as to whether those partaking of the meal of the Christian community, which Paul will call the Lord’s Supper in 1 Corinthians 11, can also justifiably eat foodstuffs, especially meat, that has been offered to  deities other than the God of Israel and his Christ (i.e., ‘idols’ in Paul’s idiom).

In his discussion of this topic, Paul seeks to outline a course of action that is characterized by significant nuance. First, it is noticeable that Paul does not problematize ‘interreligious’ eating together as such, nor does he threaten  any sanctions. This creates space for those in the city of Corinth who are compelled to eat with non-Christians for reasons of general sociability, family ties, and interests in the sphere of business and politics. Second, Paul is also clear that as long as foodstuffs do not clearly signify allegiance with deities other than the Lord (and are therefore a form of apostasy), they can be freely consumed. Third, as soon as foodstuffs imply the association with another deity other than the Lord (to be sure, not so much from the perspective of the Christ devotee involved, but rather from the perspective of others), their consumption becomes deeply problematic.

Bodies and the physical in 1 Corinthians 10

The text can be regarded as a theological discussion, ordering and regulating ideas that one should (and shouldn’t) have about the divine; it can also be read as a text dealing with the regulation of social behavior – eating meals together is a key form of human sociability. However, when reading the text with these emphases, it can easily be overlooked that it is a text dealing primarily with bodies and their behaviour. The negotiation of the relationships between both the divine and the human and among humans  themselves is mediated through physical behaviour in the form of eating. Exclusion and inclusion, therefore, is also a physical, rather than a intellectual or a disembodied social practice (obviously, disembodied social practices are impossible: the social is always also physical, even if this can be easily overlooked). This can be spelled out in a little more detail.

First, this leads to the observation that, although the issues at stake can be seen to be primarily social (who can associate and eat with whom?) and metaphysical (what is the effect of certain foodstuffs?; do pagan gods really exist? etc.), physical behaviour is really what matters. Allegiance to Christ is performed physically by means of partaking of and abstaining from certain foodstuffs. In particular, it is the body of the Christ devotee as seen by others that is the focus of all negotiations of inclusion and exclusion in 1 Corinthians 10. Physical behaviour and all that is in Paul’s view attached to it is the starting point of Paul’s argument and of his attempt to find a middle way between apostasy (caused by idolatry) and anti-social behaviour in this text, which shows to what a large extent he is a theologian of the body.

Second, the negotiation of social relationships (and of inclusion and exclusion) that takes place throughout 1 Corinthians 10 – as meals are performances of social relationships, expressing and (re)constituting them – takes place through physical behaviour, and thus the body and its (disciplined) behaviour becomes the site where such relationships are negotiated. Certainly, the body is not the body in and of itself but the body as committed to Christ, and especially as it is seen and evaluated by outsiders (cf. v. 29!), who, it seems, must not get the impression that Christ devotees can enjoy multiple forms of κοινωνία (koinonia, communion) (just like ‘weak’ insiders must not get this idea, cf. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13), even if Paul’s own metaphysical position seems to be that, in the end,  all of this does not really matter, given the lack of reality and power that he ascribes to pagan deities. Yet, as Paul cannot control how others see the bodies of Christ devotees and interpret them, he is forced to suggest disciplining these bodies with regard to consumption as soon as such consumption is turned into an explicit performance of κοινωνία with another deity than Christ and may be perceived, both by those outside of the community and the ‘weak’ members of the community itself, as a form of apostasy.

Third, when further considering the physical negotiation of allegiance to and communion with Christ (a negotiation of inclusion and exclusion into this communion), it is of importance to note that Paul engages in a search and exploration rather than in the development of fixed rules and regulations. His argument is deeply contextual and depends on the ‘reading’ of physical behaviour by others, in particular by those outside of the ἐκκλησία, in contrast to the situation in 1 Corinthians 8:1-13, where the perspective of those inside of the assembly matters. Presumably, in a context where eating meat associated with other deities would not have had the implication of being seen as compromising one’s fidelity to and communion with Christ (i.e., engaging in apostasy), such consumption would not have been as problematic as it appears to be in Corinth. A contemporary reception of Pauline ethical considerations in 1 Corinthians 10 would, therefore, be well-advised to take into account the contextuality of his approach and to continue his search for appropriate behaviour in new contexts, rather than to replicate Paul’s findings for the Corinthian Christ devotees in contexts that are rather different from Corinth.

 

Questions

  1. When thinking of inclusion and exclusion, have you ever felt excluded physically from any group or gathering? If so, how?
  2. When reflecting on the Eucharist or the Mass (or any other kind of holy meal) in your community, can you think of forms of physical inclusion and exclusion?
  3. Concerning foodstuffs, are there any foodstuffs that you wouldn’t want to eat because they would compromise your relationship with the church of Christ?
  4. Concerning people, can you imagine any kind of people that you wouldn’t want to eat with because this would compromise your relationship with the church of Christ?
  5. Can you imagine any kind of people who wouldn’t want to eat the food you serve or who wouldn’t want to eat with you because that would compromise their beliefs or values?

 

About

This summary belongs to a more extensive article of Henk Bakker, which can be found here: Discerning the Body in 1 Corinthians 10: The Physical Negotiation of Exclusion and Inclusion by Paul as a Theologian of the Body.

Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.

 

Conversation Guide #6: Otherness and Exile – by Henk Bakker

According to leading Jewish scholars, Jesus should basically be understood within the conservative Palestinian settings in which he was raised. Jesus was more of a marginal Jew, without any particular status, wealth or higher education, than an opinion leader. For other scholars, however, it cannot be denied that this Galilean prophet and holy man was also identified as the embodiment of the Name of God, as the Son of God, albeit in an indirect and interpretive way.

His Own Path

Despite the common ground as to Jesus’s social-cultural background and the process of sense-making involved, there is no real consensus as to how disapproving or disqualifying Jesus was, and to whom his criticisms were exactly addressed. In any case, part and parcel of any halachic attitude and discourse in Jesus’s day was the practice of social distancing, which was fairly normal. Social distancing was an approved means by which to discipline offenders of religious law, and, if necessary, to ban them from exerting their faith. The stance Jesus took in most cases of law-related social nuisance was noticeably controversial, as I will show by looking mainly at his parables.

Playful Confrontations

Parables have the advantage of providing playful confrontations. The listeners are taken by the hand by story, and in a way experience the message by imagination. The confrontation is acted out safely as an inner moral dialogue that makes the listener decide on the spot: either they surrender to the moral imperative demonstrated in the parable, or evade it.

Identity in Hybridity

It is evident from the parables that Jesus proclaimed a very critical message. Without any doubt, the parable of the evil tenants (Matt 21:33–46; Mark 12:1–12; Luke 20:9–19) represents an exemplary specimen of Jesus’s criticism of the temple aristocracy in his day, particularly the Markan version. Here Jesus defines himself as the final prophet in a long line of messengers from God, whose fate it is to die for the cause of God’s property.

Unfortunately, the extended version of Matthew has often been taken as a punishment of the Jewish people as a nation, but this is not the case. So who are these ‘others’? Exegetically it seems tenable to argue for an inclusive and exclusive interpretation simultaneously.

Judean hierarchy tended to think in temple-centered terms. In order to maintain a monopoly, its monotheism was rather restrictive, not conversant with foreign people, nations and religious systems. Galileans however, which is Jesus’s background, were regularly exposed to the widening outlook of (later) Isaiah, (later) Zachariah, and late Malachi. Their belief system can be typified as inclusive monotheism: throughout the world and the nations, yes, even in the darkest places and provinces, the light of God will start to shine.

Even though Jesus’s intentions were inclusive, they were not all-inclusive. The parable of the wicked tenants demonstrates that, for Jesus, new identity is found in hybridity because the ‘others’ are being included, whosoever they may be.

In other words: for Jesus the realm of ‘otherness’ (alterity) is constitutive of hybridized identity, and envisages another type of leadership and new communal identity. Nonetheless, Jesus’s notion of ‘hybridity’ was not just a matter of mixed identity but of convictions crossing social borders, and in particular of conversion. Otherness means either completion or exile, and in Jesus’s parables the hearers are invited to enter a narrative in which their imagination, by heart and intuition, will eventually predispose them to one or to the other.

Culture of Excuses

The parable of the great supper heads in the same direction with quite another narrative (Matt 22:2–10 NIV; Luke 14:16–24 NIV). The ramifications mentioned in this parable come close to the measures to be taken with regard to apostasy (Deuteronomy 17:1–7).

Jesus’s message in sharing this parable is, again, to emphasize how often God has reached out to his people, in particular people in charge (tenants or listed guests), and how often his message (and messengers) has been rejected. The ‘otherness’ here is manifested in the surprising new list of guests, namely ‘anyone’: that is the bad and the good, the poor and the disabled, and all others who were compelled to come in. Those who suffer most from the diaspora and current Roman oppression will be restored and healed in God’s Kingdom, but those who look for excuses to remain where they are, seeking compromises in their luxurious and privileged positions, will finally be judged and  brought into deeper exile, which is the fate of the apostate. So, Israelites who hide behind sheer excuses may end up becoming total strangers to God. Quite astoundingly, they become the ‘others’, whereas outsiders are invited to enter the banquet hall. Replacement is the fate of the apostate.

Into Exile

Jesus is lenient and patient in facilitating conversion, repentance, and forgiveness, but he sends people back to exile if they are hypocrites whose ambition it is to thrive in God’s mercy and do not treat others in the same merciful way. Both forces are at work in the parable of the prodigal son (Luke), and in the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matthew).

So, exclusion, which is roughly equivalent to banishment (literally and/or spiritually), does not equal capital punishment on account of mortal sin. The sanction of banishment/exile was widely administered, while it was almost impossible to sentence someone to death in rabbinic courts. The gravity of the banishment was that the person not only was exiled, but that he was also banished from the presence of God.

Conclusion

Taking all this into account, Jesus’s attitude towards apostates, or outsiders, can be epitomized with the binary of otherness and exile. In his teaching and attitude, in particular in the parables, Jesus exhibits a typical Galilean orientation, which he deepens through unfolding his own halachic path. His criticism is mainly directed towards hypocrisy, in particular towards those whom he accuses of taking advantage of the system, of God’s patience and grace, and at the expense of poor and vulnerable people. In the coming age, which is imminent, and as a matter of fact present in Jesus’s words and deeds (e.g., healings and exorcisms), positions and dispositions will be turned upside down. The ‘others’ outside the system, such as strangers and outcasts and misfits, will be invited to come in, and ‘wicked’ insiders will be banished to exile. Consequently, otherness and hybridity are constitutive to Christian identity, according to Jesus, whereas exile denominates a type of otherness that seems to be beyond redemption, and irreversibly demarcates sound from toxic (infectious) alterity.

 

Questions

  1. Social distancing was an approved means to discipline offenders of religious law, and, if necessary, to ban them from exerting their faith. The stance Jesus took in most cases of law-related social nuisance was rather controversial – as is shown (among other situations) in the parables he told. Can you imagine the disruptive nature of exclusion in Jesus’s day and Jesus’s way of reacting against unloving practices? Explain what you are picturing or thinking.
  2. Parables have the advantage of providing playful confrontations. These confrontations are acted out safely as an inner moral dialogue that makes the listener decide to surrender to the moral imperative demonstrated in the parable or evade it. With regard to church services, can you think of creative ways to implement the power of playful confrontations?
  3. For Jesus, new identity is found in hybridity, because the ‘others’ are being included, whosoever they may be. It is not just a matter of mixed identity, but of convictions crossing social orders, and in particular of conversion. What is your idea (ideologically) about this hybridity within faith communities nowadays, and what do you see as the main hindrances to realizing that?
  4. What culture of excuses do you see within faith communities nowadays (starting with your own); can you think of ways to overcome this?
  5. Within the time of Jesus, the gravity of banishment implies banishment from the presence of God. So the social consequences include religious consequences. How do the social and the religious interact nowadays in your opinion?

 

About

This summary belongs to a more extensive article of Henk Bakker, which can be found here: Otherness and Exile: Jesus’s Attitude towards Apostates and Outsiders.

Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.

 

Conversation Guide #5: Deuteronomy 17 – by Joep Dubbink & Klaas Spronk

In Deuteronomy 17 it seems that apostasy or ‘leaving your religion’ is punished by death, a shocking outcome for the modern reader. However, this paper claims that this cannot be regarded as characteristic of the biblical view on exclusion and inclusion.

Deuteronomy 17:2-7

According to this text, idolatry and worshipping other gods are absolutely not acceptable. The prohibition on idolatry is deeply rooted in the religion of Israel; it is found in the Decalogue, in the commandment that forbids the making and worshipping of idols (Ex. 20:4; Deut. 5:8). Idolatry is a matter of transgressing God’s covenant and an ‘abomination’ (17:2, 4), an expression indicating a variety of cultic and ethic practices that can have no place in Israel.

Due process is important: thorough inquiry and a minimum of two witnesses (cf. Deut. 19:15) is necessary to avoid false accusations. The witnesses are required to start the execution themselves, obviously to make them think twice and make them even more responsible for the verdict based on their testimony (cf. also the way Jesus uses this: John 7:53-8:11, especially 8:7). All this is meant to ‘purge the evil from your midst’ (v. 7). Removing evil, unacceptable sins, from society is the first intention of this rule. A pedagogic intent is sometimes added (Deut. 19:20; 21:21), but is secondary.

Historical and biblical theological setting

For a long time,  biblical Israel was not as ‘monotheistic’, as the ‘historical overview’ of Genesis – 2 Kings seems to suggest. It was only after a long battle that the ‘YHWH-alone-movement’, which shaped the characteristic biblical faith, finally won, and their views were accepted as normative. The Book of Deuteronomy testifies to this battle: Deuteronomy 17:2-7 is meant to draw a line as a safeguard against apostasy, as that would be disastrous for the whole community.

For  twenty-first century readers, Deuteronomy 17:2-7 could easily be mistaken as a text about conversion, ‘changing your religion’, but the concept of religion as a set of truths, values and guidelines for worship and behaviour that one freely chooses is a modern one. In antiquity much more than in our times, religion was a collective choice or not even a choice. Whoever was born in Israel was a member of the covenant and responsible for upholding the rules of the covenant. Anyone transgressing fundamental rules of the covenant could not remain a member of the group.

Reception history

In the history of interpretation, we do not find indications that the execution of this law was much propagated. We do not know of any examples of executions of perpetrators under this law in the Second Temple period. Jewish tradition, on purpose, added so many criteria that it became almost impossible to carry out the death penalty.

In the history of the Christian church, especially in the time of the Reformation and Contra-Reformation, many people were executed because of assumed apostasy. However, those in power did not base the right to carry out the death penalty on Deuteronomy 17, but rather, for instance, on Romans 13. Calvin uses Deuteronomy 17 to ask for rigidity but also for ‘diligent inquiry’ and reads verse 7 about the witnesses being the first to throw a stone as a warning against light accusations.

Luther, in a lecture on Deuteronomy 17:1-7, states that with regard to sinning against faith and the word, there is no room for lapse (as is the case with regard to sinning against love), because when faith is lost, everything is lost, while love endures everything. Some commentators follow the line of Luther, indicating that at some point there is no more room for mercy or compromise. They stress, for example, the fact that the faith of Israel is diametrically opposed to the Canaanite religion, as life against death, or apply it to the Christian responsibility to keep the church pure, rather ignoring the violent content of the pericope.

At the other end of the spectrum, commentators focus on capital punishment as cruel and as a form of violence. The first type of reader changes the harsh content of the text by taking it metaphorically: no stoning but excommunication. Readers of the second kind explicitly refuse to spiritualize the biblical text and take the text seriously, including all its negative aspects, but they also, in the end, have to find a way of dealing with the text in the present day.

Exclusion and inclusion within Tanakh

The broader context of the Hebrew Bible shows that there are different voices on the theme of inclusion/exclusion. Safeguarding one’s identity can be important in a specific situation. There are many different situations, from family/clan, settlements, tribes, to monarchies and parochial organizations. In each of them outsiders play specific and also often changing roles.

The books of Ezra and Nehemiah are witnesses to a theology that is determined by fear. With the events of the exile in mind, the implication is that Israel narrowly escaped annihilation, that new transgressions are a direct threat to its society and foreign influence has to be removed (e.g., Ezra 9:1-15, Neh 9).

In the book of Jonah, a much more lenient view on the heathen (and hostile) city of Nineveh is found than in Nahum: in Jonah, the non-Israelite sailors are doing the right thing; they pray to YHWH (Jonah 1:14). In the story of Ruth, a Moabite woman is presented as faithful to her mother-in-law and to YHWH, while Numbers 25 warns against the danger of Moabite women leading the Israelites astray. The book of Genesis displays open and often even friendly relations between Abraham and his descendants on the one hand and the Canaanites on the other hand (e.g., Jethro, the Midianite father-in-law of Moses).

The book of Joshua offers a very clear distinction between the chosen people of Israel and the Canaanites who are only there to be replaced. However, it is introduced by two stories that put this distinction into a new light: Rahab, a Canaanite prostitute in Jericho, plays a positive role as a true believer in YHWH; she and her family survive the destruction of Jericho. Achan, a member of the important tribe of Judah, is stoned to death for his transgressions, together with his wife and children.

These stories cannot be regarded as an exception to the rule of Deuteronomy 17 that apostasy deserves the death penalty, because outsiders like Ruth and Rahab are only included after they proved to be true followers of the god of Israel. The older situation of henotheism, in which it was accepted as normal that other peoples served other gods, is replaced in most texts in Tanakh by strict monotheism. Traces of the older situation can be found in a text like Deuteronomy 4:19, which shows that YHWH had no problem with other people worshipping the sun and moon, as long as Israel  refrained from it. Alas, this aspect has been ignored in the reception history, and the most radical versions of ‘otherness’ have frequently been adopted as the only possible meaning. Fundamentalist readers of the Bible to this day have thus justified the unmerciful exclusion of ‘outsiders’ from the community of believers.

In line with these remarks, we conclude that, in our opinion, Deuteronomy 17:2-7 does not have the last word when it comes to exclusion or inclusion in Tanakh. It should be handled with care when we want to base our discussion of this topic on biblical grounds, as it is not just a text about conversion and it should be read together with other texts with a different approach to this theme.

 

Questions

  1. What are your first impressions after reading Deuteronomy 17:2-7: consent, approval, fear, disgust, protest, or something else?
  2. Do you regard faith as a matter of personal choice, or do you feel yourself a member of a community of people whose faith you share?
  3. Would it be easy for you to change or abandon your religion, or would you experience opposition? If so, would this opposition come from within (your own conscience) of from others, like family, friends, religious or worldly authorities?
  4. To what extent is the variety of opinions within the Bible on ‘outsiders’ problematic for you, and to what extent do you regard this as an enrichment?

 

About

This summary belongs to a more extensive article of Joep Dubbink and Klaas Spronk, which can be found here: Deuteronomy 17:2-7 within the Context of Tanakh.

Last year, we published the book Religious Exclusivism and Social Inclusion? A Religious Response, which is available Open Access (for free). People asked for an additional discussion guide to bring the outcomes of this research to a wider audience. We agreed to that, and are happy to present a discussion guide which offers you summaries of all contributions, accompanied by questions for discussion. We hope this stimulates people, in all different contexts, to discuss these matters thoroughly and make them actual and relevant for their own situations. Every week we publish another summary of a chapter of the book, and questions for discussion.  If you want to use the whole conversation guide at once, it can be downloaded here: Conversation guide.