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Making Sense of Old Testament GenocideChristian Interpretations of Herem Passages$
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Christian Hofreiter

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780198810902

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2018

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780198810902.001.0001

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Violent Readings

Violent Readings

(p.160) 6 Violent Readings
Making Sense of Old Testament Genocide

Christian Hofreiter

Oxford University Press

The chapter addresses the question in how far herem texts have inspired and shaped war and violent behaviour in the real world. It briefly reviews passages in Ambrose and Augustine that arguably constitute patristic antecedents to later violent readings. This review is followed by a detailed treatment of the reception of herem texts during the medieval crusades, which draws on crusading chronicles, songs, poems, epics, and sermons; then by briefer sections on the medieval inquisition, the Spanish conquest of the New World, the ‘Christian holy war’ in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century authors, and colonial wars in North America. The chapter demonstrates that the OT generally and herem texts specifically provided narratives, categories, and labels by which Christians understood themselves and their ‘enemies’. Herem texts were sometimes used to justify massacres ex post facto; at the same time, it cannot be demonstrated that they shaped the planning or execution of mass slaughters.

Keywords:   conquista, crusades, genocide, herem, holy war, inquisition, puritans, religion and violence

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