The abstract of Hofreiter’s DPhil thesis on the subject, published by OUP, reads:
The thesis investigates the interpretation of some of the most problematic passages of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, i.e. passages involving the concept or practice of herem. The texts under consideration contain prima facie divine commands to commit genocide as well as descriptions of genocidal military campaigns commended by God. The thesis presents and analyses the solutions that Christian interpreters through the ages have proposed to the concomitant moral and hermeneutical challenges. A number of ways in which they have been used to justify violence and war are also addressed.
For the patristic and early medieval eras the thesis aims to be as comprehensive as possible in identifying and analysing the various interpretative options, while for later periods the focus lies on new developments. In addition to offering the most comprehensive presentation of the Wirkungsgeschichte of herem texts to date, the thesis offers an analysis and critical evaluation of the theologico-hermeneutical assumptions underlying each of the several approaches, and their exegetical and practical consequences. The resulting analytical taxonomy and hermeneutical map is an original contribution to the history of exegesis and the study of the interplay between religion and violence.
The cognitive dissonance herem texts cause for pious readers is introduced as an inconsistent set of five propositions: (1) God is good; (2) the bible is true; (3) genocide is atrocious; (4) according to the bible, God commanded and commended genocide; (5) a good being, let alone the supremely good Being, would never command or commend an atrocity. If proposition (4) is assumed, at least one of the deeply-held beliefs expressed in the other four must be modified or given up.
The introduction is followed by four diachronic chapters in which the various exegetical approaches are set out: pre-critical (from the OT to the Apostolic Fathers), dissenting (Marcion and other ancient critics), figurative (from Origen to high medieval times), divine-command-ethics,(from Augustine to Calvin) and violent (from Ambrose to Puritan North America). A concluding chapter presents near contemporary re-iterations and variations of the historic approaches.
Why Christian realism requires the disavowal of war – “Christians do not disavow war because it is often so horrible, but because war, in spite of its horror – or perhaps because it is so horrible – can be so morally compelling. That is why the church does not have an alternative to war. The church is the alternative to war. When Christians lose that reality – that is, the reality of the church as an alternative to the world’s reality – we abandon the world to the unreality of war”.
Hauerwas was interviewed by Sojourners editor Jim Wallis on November 8, 2001. A transcript of that interview follows.
“William Cavanaugh, a friend and fellow theologian, has this to say about Hauerwas’ tough nature: “Indeed, of all the great Christian pacifists over the centuries–Hippolytus, Francis of Assisi, Martin Luther King–Stanley Hauerwas is the one I would want on my side in a bar fight.” Hauerwas himself says one reason he so loudly proclaims his non-violent ethic is that others might keep him from killing someone”
My real concern as a man of faith and as a theologian, it’s really about the linking of vengeance to God, the linking of violence to God, that God is a vengeful person whose vengeance needs satisfying in some way. And of course I think that that does have catastrophic results, enabling a whole lot of our behaviour to be somehow canonised by God rather than us undergoing the process of having our images of God pruned from our own violence so as to be able to appreciate someone who is entirely without violence, entirely unambiguous and entirely loving of us. My concern is not to go back into letting God be a function of our violent social life, rather trying to understand the way in which God, who is in no way violent at all, is trying to enable us to undo from within our own violence and come and live in a way that is peaceful.
I have been asked to talk to you about Worship in a violent world. As though there has ever been any other. There hasn’t. It is only because of the introduction into our midst of glimpses of a world, not yet our own, where all is peace that we are able to look at our world and refer to it as “violent”, rather than simply normal. The discovery that might is might, a frightening aberration for which we can take some responsibility, rather than right, a natural part of the order of things which just tends to run away with us, is a hugely complex insight whose consequences we haven’t yet worked out. What I would like to do with you today is to stand back and ask what it is that allows Christians to use a horrid word taken from the world of violence such as “worship”; what we mean by it when we do use it; and what indeed do we do that counts as “worship”.