Since October 7, I have been haunted by biblical texts and questions. The hauntings began with two sessions in my Introduction to Hebrew Bible class. 

In that class, we look at biblical texts in their historical and literary contexts to determine how their meaning when they were written and compiled (so far as we can reconstruct it) can help us discern ways to address current issues.

On September 29, we discussed the “lex talionis” (the law of retaliation found in Exodus 21:22-25). This law, which seems to us now to be brutal and inhumane, in the ancient world actually served to break the cycle of violence by limiting revenge.

On October 4, students engaged with Exodus 22:20-23: “You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” It is a text largely repeated in many other places, including Exodus 23:6, Lev. 19:33-34, or Deuteronomy 10:19.  

At the time, I debated whether to use the Israel-Palestine conflict or the immigration crisis in the U.S. as a contemporary case study. I decided on the latter.

Then, on Oct. 7, Hamas brutally attacked Israel, leading to the current war. These texts have haunted me since. 

I am haunted by what would happen if we took to heart the convictions embodied in Exodus 21-23. Surely, it would cause Israel to change the trajectory of their treatment of the Palestinians. Surely, it would dispose Israel’s military to limit their use of violence.

I am haunted by the question of how much weight such convictions from Jewish and Christian canon would even carry in the secular state that is modern Israel.      

I am haunted by the question of whether, under present circumstances, changes in policies or tactics are even possible. 

I am haunted by the number of groups who are complicit in creating the circumstances that have led to this war. Aside from terrorist organizations like Hamas, an increasingly anti-democratic Israeli government and those who actively or passively endorse such actions, the international community is complicit in many ways.

Among them are how they allowed the modern nation of Israel to be formed after World War II, the United Nations’ inability to enforce its resolutions about Israel, and the policies of the United States and other Middle Eastern countries.

I am haunted, too, because I have been hesitant to write anything. This is partly because so many people have already done so, accurate information is hard to come by and because these are emotionally charged times that make it hard to think clearly.

Nevertheless, there are some things of which we can be sure. We can be sure that nothing justifies Hamas’ actions. Hamas is explicitly devoted to the extermination of Israel. It uses civilians as shields. It is supported by Iran. 

We can be sure that Israel has legitimate security concerns. Fear of genocide after the Holocaust is not irrational. Fear of violence against Jews is not paranoid, given the rise in antisemitic rhetoric and actions in recent years.

Even my small city, Macon, Georgia, has seen antisemitic hate literature distributed three times in the last several months, as well as a protest outside a local synagogue. 

Although I believe a two-state solution is needed, any solution that does not require all contributing parties to admit their complicity will be more fragile than it would otherwise be. Of course, admitting complicity alone is not enough. But it is a start. It must also be followed by humanitarian actions that lead to a just peace for all God’s people. 

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