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Making peace with the Old Testament


When his workshop, “And the Lord smote them” drew to a close, Afwat Marzouk (right) engaged in an animated discussion with Garth Ewert Fisher, pastor of Mount Royal Mennonite Church in Saskatoon.

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July 14, 2012
-Deborah Froese

Vancouver B.C. — The Old Testament can be troublesome, particularly when it comes to issues of violence.

Afwat Marzouk, Assistant Professor of Old Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, approached this topic in his workshop at Mennonite Church Canada Assembly 2012, “And the Lord smote them.” His energy and enthusiasm matched the scale of the challenge as he invited participants “to wrestle with the violence in the Old Testament” and to “read the text non-violently.”

It was not an easy proposition.

After Joshua chapters 2, 6, and 7 were read aloud, participants shared their gut-level responses to the stories. They shared conflicted emotions about how God dealt with various people in those passages—the story of Rahab, the destruction of Jericho and the sin of Achan.

One participant said that she felt a sense of pride in Rahab’s ability to use her intellect to save her family by hiding Joshua’s spies from the King of Jericho. Another pointed out that it was tough to make a clear ethical judgement of a prostitute like Rahab. And yet Rahab is firmly entrenched in the family line of Jesus.

Another participant pointed out that both Achan, who was guilty of stealing from God, and his innocent family, were destroyed.

Where is the sense of fair-play or of God in all of that?

“We want to make up a flat portrayal of God,” Marzouk said, “One who is domesticated.” That makes God easier to understand, but it is not a mould God fits into.

Marzouk urged participants to explore the larger picture, to consider the perspectives of all of the players within a given biblical story. Rather than drawing boundaries around what we understand and believe, we must wrestle with ideas and characters we feel are threatening. He suggested we view the text itself as an “other” or an outsider and, just as we might wrestle to find ways of getting along with a person we do not understand, we must refuse to dismiss or ignore that “other”.

“What is the underlying problem with the text?” he asks. “The other that is different from me is a threat to me.”

Making peace with the Old Testament may be easier if we engage peace and reconciliation strategies with the text so that we can better distinguish what we expect from what we actually encounter.

See complete coverage of Assembly 2012