In Praise of Violence image

In Praise of Violence

The consolidation of Solomon's kingdom in 1 Kings 2 is a somewhat troubling passage of Scripture. After everything we have towards the end of 1&2 Samuel - David, you're going to die, and your son Solomon will build the temple, because he is a man of peace and not of war - it leaves a slightly nasty taste in the mouth to read first David's instructions (1 Kgs 2:5-9) and then Solomon's implementation (2:13-46) of the deaths of Adonijah, Joab and Shimei, and the exile of Abiathar. "Today I settle all family business," you can imagine him saying. "All the heads of the five families ..."

Yet the writer apparently does not want us to recoil from the violence in this particular instance; he seems rather to approve of it, as indicated by his concluding sentence (2:46), “So the kingdom was established in the hand of Solomon.” How can this be? Solomon, the shalom-man, an agent of violence, yet in a good way?

Here’s Peter Leithart, in his outstanding commentary on 1&2 Kings:

Christian theology cannot, however, accept the analysis of violence offered by postmodern thinkers such as Emmanuel Levinas and Jacques Derrida. For Derrida, violence is a pervasive evil. All efforts to judge or classify the “other” constitute violence against individual uniqueness, and love and justice require openness, unconditional acceptance. Yet, absolute openness is an impossible ideal. Derrida knows that all social and cultural orders classify, and by his theory they all contain the seeds of violence as a result. Human beings are inevitably locked within a violent order that can at best only be ameliorated, usually by acts of counterviolence. As Milbank and Hart powerfully argue, this postmodern analysis of violence depends on an “ontology of violence” similar to the pagan myths of Mesopotamia and Greece. Ancient myths depict a world of ultimate conflict, whether between various petty deities or between metaphysical principles of order and chaos. In the creation mythologies of Babylon or Hesiod, creation itself is an act of violence, the ruling God triumphing over rivals through cunning or castration or both. By contrast, Christianity confesses that the transcendent source of all things is a perfectly loving, perfectly peaceful communion of Father, Son and Spirit and that creation came into being through a peaceful act of giving through speech.

Yet, 1-2 Kings and other portions of Scripture endorse violence in certain settings, and, as Boersma argues, there is an ineradicable element of violence in the atonement. For Scripture, though violence is an intrusion in an originally peaceful world, violence may be redemptive. In our current postlapsarian and preeschatological condition, violence is not only (at times) a necessary evil but also (at times) a positive good. First Kings 2 gives a particularly important gloss on this claim by showing that in the postlapsarian and preeschatological world, violence is necessary for establishing the conditions of social flourishing that the Bible describes as “peace.” Violent execution of justice is one of the means for establishing conditions of the new creation. As Boersma puts it, “God’s hospitality requires violence, just as his love necessitates wrath,” and “divine violence ... Is a way in which God strives toward and eschatological situation of pure hospitality.” As 1 Kings 2 makes clear, violence (like wrath) is not God’s monopoly. Solomon serves as a “minister of wrath” (Rom 13:4) to establish an Israel that is a preview of the continual rejoicing and pure hospitality of the eschaton (1 Kings 4-5). Yet, the violent establishment of Solomon is but a faint shadow of the greater Solomon, who establishes a new creation first of all by suffering violence rather than deploying it.

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