The Bible and Religious Violence

Ronald Hendel examines religious violence in antiquity and today


This woodcut by French artist Gustave Doré, titled “The Walls of Jericho Fall Down” (1885), depicts the Israelites’ destruction of Jericho as described in Joshua 6. In his Biblical Views column, Ronald Hendel wonders what is wrong with religion that it inspires religious violence.

Paris, Colorado Springs, Duma—in 2015, fundamentalist terrorists killed innocent people in these cities allegedly in the name of Allah, Christ and Yahweh, respectively. These are just a few recent examples of religious violence inspired by radical forms of Islam, Christianity and Judaism—the world’s three major monotheistic religions, each Biblically based or derived.

“Is there something wrong with Biblically derived monotheism that gives rise to religious terrorism—to murder in the name of God?” asks Ronald Hendel in his Biblical Views column “The Bible and Religious Violence” in the March/April 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

The concept of holy war (Hebrew: ḥerem), Hendel points out, is referenced several times in the Hebrew Bible and is a major theme in the Book of Joshua. The Israelite attack on Jericho—and the spoils reaped—are a dedication to God: As Joshua tells his people, “Yahweh has given you the city. The city and everything in it are to be dedicated (ḥerem) to Yahweh” (Joshua 6:16–17). Thus, the Israelites in the Book of Joshua believe their religious violence is justified.

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On the ninth-century B.C.E. Mesha Stele (or Moabite Stone), the Moabite vassal King Mesha commemorated his victory over the Israelites, framing the success as a tribute to his god Chemosh: “Chemosh said to me, ‘Go and seize Nebo from Israel,’ and I went in the night, and I battled against it from the break of dawn until noon, and I took it, and I killed all of them—7,000 men and boys and women and girls and maidens—for I dedicated [ḥerem] it to Ashtar-Chemosh, and I took from there the vessels of Yahweh, and I dragged them before Chemosh.”


Ronald Hendel

History—and current events—tells us that religious violence can be as much about material gain as about following doctrine. Indeed, today we see that the extremist group ISIS has been profiting from their devastating destruction of sites in Iraq and Syria.

“The religious ideology of holy war, which has trickled down into the religious motivation for religious terror, is a mask, a justification and a deception,” says Ronald Hendel. “It deceives its practitioners and its victims. Ashur does not want the death of the people of Laqe, nor does Yahweh want the death of the people of Jericho, nor does Chemosh want the death of the people of Nebo. Nor does Allah want the death of people in California.”

For a deeper probe into the ideology of religious violence throughout the ancient Near East, and to learn Ronald Hendel’s solution for addressing religious violence today, read the full Biblical Views column “The Bible and Religious Violence” in the March/April 2016 issue of BAR.


BAS Library Members: Read the full Biblical Views column “The Bible and Religious Violence” by Ronald Hendel in the March/April 2016 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.


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  • s says

    For serious Bible students wanting to know WHY Yahweh ordered destruction of all life in Jericho, Ai, & certain other Canaanite cities & tribes once you read that He DID order Joshua how to handle each conquest…the way I understood it was to pray, read Genesis 6, study nephilim, Canaanites & their laws & practices (including all food & drink) & what constituted worship/tribute of & to their gods…had to dig for it. Who/what were the inhabitants of these cities & what were they up to? For me, I start assuming God knows more than me, then read what the original Hebrew says/means in the blue letter Bible (free app!) & then look for more to explain why a loving & merciful God would order destruction of all life in Jericho & Ai – He did order it (Joshua didn’t dream this up) & I now get it…it’s foreign to our current lifestyle & understanding, mainly because Yahweh has wiped out most of it, thank you Yahweh!

  • Shane says

    Those people wondering who was killing in the name of Christ and Yahweh need to learn how to use a link.

    Click on the places in the article

    Robert Dear, an Evangelical Christian, killed 3 people and wounded 9 when he shot up a Planned Parenthood clinic…

    In Duma an 18 month old Palestinian baby was burned alive by Jewish settlers….

    And, no, the biblical story of Jericho is not historical.

    Those who still justify killing for God don’t get the article.

  • Donna says

    To: Ron Hendel concerning Scott V. Question #3
    Sir, you still have not given your explanation and documentation verifying where/when in 2015 anyone killed in the name of Christ or Yahweh.

    To: Scott V., looking for Intellectual honesty in this case may be impossible….so check this out and you will understand what has been written about Ron Hendel and his anti-Christian bias from his past publications. This is why you have not heard back from him.

    In this internet search article which I found by accident, from an Associates in Biblical Research statement: (criticizing Ron Hendel’s Excerpt In the July/August 2010 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review,) as ” a disturbing and highly prejudicial, anti-Christian column was published. (By Ron Hendel) his main thrust of this article aims directly and antagonistically at Christian scholars who hold to any form of orthodoxy… Continue reading ….”

    This is my very first time on Biblical Archaeology Society site and it is very unfortunate that I read Hendel’s “Violence in Religion” anti-Christian, anti-Yahweh article. I did not believe what he was claiming so I immediately questioned who Hendel was and Googled him. I found out that he has been accused of Anti-Christian bias in the past. (see website link above)

    I just want to learn about Biblical Archaeology and ancient digs…it’s fun and very interesting. I was not expecting propaganda nor do I want to read it.

    Maybe the students at Berkley University believe everything he says. I hope they have the sense and courage to question him when he makes statements like this.

  • samuel says

    Kalau Allah dlm alkitab memerintahkan berperang, itu adalah hak Allah sepenuhnya, dan kita dalam hal ini berurusan ddengan Allah penguasa hidup dan pencipta manusia. Allah memerintahkan semua musuh dibunuh karena Allah ingi umat pilihan Tuhan tidak dibujuk bangsa asing utk berbuat dosa, karena terbukti saat bangsa Israel tidak membunuh musuh yang telah Allah perintahkan untuk membunuh maka mereka menjadi berdosa dng ikut menyembah berhala bangsa asing tsb.

    If God in the Bible commanded to fight, it is the right of God fully, and we are in this case dealing wirh Allah, the lord and creator of human life. God commands all enemies killed because God intending to God’s chosen people are not persuaded foreigners For sin, as proven when the Israelites did not kill the enemy that God has commanded to kill, they became guilty of idolatry with participating foreign that nation .

  • Scott says

    My comment/question #3 (Scott) has nothing to do with #4 and #5.
    I am Scott V. – still would like to hear from the author of this article.

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