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The Bible and Colonialism: A Moral Critique (Biblical Seminar) [Paperback]

Our Price $ 75.70  
Item Number 320612  
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Item Specifications...

Pages   344
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.24" Width: 6.38" Height: 0.73"
Weight:   1.15 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 1, 1997
Publisher   Continuum
ISBN  1850758158  
EAN  9781850758150  

Availability  127 units.
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Item Description...
The biblical claim of the divine promise of land is integrally linked with a divine mandate to exterminate the indigenous people. The narrative has supported virtually all Western colonizing enterprises (e.g. in Latin America, South Africa, Palestine), reaulting in the suffering of millions of people, and loss of respect for the Bible. According to modern secular standards of human and political rights, what the biblical narrative calls for a war-crimes and crimes against humanity. In this provocative and compelling study, Prior protests at the neglect of the moral question in conventional biblical studies, and attempts to rescue the Bible from being a blunt instrument in the oppression of people. Dr. Michael Prior is Head of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at St. Mary's University College, University of Surrey.

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More About Michael Prior

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Dr Michael Prior is Principal Lecturer in the Department of Theology & Religious Studies at St Mary's University College, Strawberry Hill, London.

Michael Prior has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Biblical Seminar (Paperback)

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1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > Colonial Period > General   [948  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Essential Reading for Students of the Bible  May 2, 2002
"The Bible and Colonialism: A Moral Critique" is essential reading for any student of the Bible, especially for those who are interested in the application of the Bible in the world. In this work, Dr. Prior introduces "moral critique of the Bible," a ground breaking form of biblical analysis that produces startling, troubling and long overdue insights. Upon completion of the reading, one wonders why scholars have neglected such a study for so long? Indeed, Dr. Prior's work is not only an expose of the appeal to the land traditions of the Old Testament to legitimate colonial domination, but an indictment of traditional Christian biblical scholarship that has by and large ignored the consideration of moral concerns. It is a refreshing corrective to an embarrassing lacuna in biblical scholarship.
Many have registered revulsion at the obvious barbarity of some of the land traditions of the Torah and the book of Joshua. Few, if any, however, have undertaken a formal, comprehensive analysis of the appeal to these traditions to justify colonial enterprises around the world. Dr. Prior does so with precision and incisiveness. He draws conclusions that are compelling, not to mention provocative. For instance, Dr. Prior states that the Bible is a problem-not simply particular readings of the Bible-in that it contains elements of racism, xenophobia and militarism. Not only do the people of ancient Israel commit acts that would be considered war crimes if committed today, but these acts are required by God. Naturally, such a conclusion is troubling to the conscientious, devoted reader. Not only do God's people engage in crimes against humanity, the Deity mandates these and even registers anger when the people disobey these commands.
Further, examination of primary sources shows that in the three arenas Dr. Prior considers-the Iberian conquest of Latin America, the Afrikaner conquest of South Africa and the Zionist conquest of Palestine-the primary appeal of the colonialists to legitimate their rapaciousness was the Bible. The consequences of this have been catastrophic for indigenous peoples and for the reputation of the Bible. Dr. Prior notes that in the arenas he examines, the Bible has come to be equated with oppression, that consequently it has fallen into disuse, and that in some cases, its moral value has been discredited.
Scripture is an anthology of writings that presume moral values. Sometimes, these values are shocking by today's standards. According to Dr. Prior, "There exists within the Bible a degree of violence and praise of violence that is surpassed by no other ancient book. The existence of such texts within Sacred Scripture is an affront to moral sensitivities." (p.261) Yet, in the history of biblical scholarship, Old Testament stories of homicide, fratricide, genocide, incest, rape, cannibalism, and human sacrifice, for example, have received no assessment from the perspective of conventional morality. This is an obvious lacuna in biblical scholarship. Dr. Prior proposes to correct this by introducing "moral critique." He states that it is necessary to subject the Bible itself, usually considered a yardstick of moral excellence, to ethical evaluation. His choice of a measure for the moral evaluation of the Bible is widely affirmed canons of international law such the 4th Geneva Convention, the Hague Conventions and other codified bodies of law. The 4th Geneva Convention, for example, stipulates rules for the treatment of prisoners of war. The land traditions of Torah and Joshua, however, fall far short of these conventions. Conduct that is reported in Sacred Scripture as being required by God is considered abhorrent by all modern democracies when it occurs today. Thus, the need to rescue the Bible from being used as a blunt instrument for the oppression of colonized peoples is inescapable. A new hermeneutic recommends itself, precisely the need to consider the moral impact of the use of the Bible on colonized peoples.
The Bible and Colonialism consists in 342 pages including an extensive bibliography. It is divided into three main sections. In Part 1, The Moral Problem of the Biblical Land Traditions, Dr. Prior explores the Old Testament land traditions and their exploitation. In Part 2, Colonial Appropriations of the Land Traditions, he offers an in depth assessment of the use of the land traditions in the colonization of Latin America, South Africa and Palestine. In Part 3, Colonialism and Biblical Evidence, he introduces moral critique.
The Rev. Dr. Michael Prior is Principal Lecturer at St. Mary's College, University of Surrey. He is an ordained Roman Catholic priest and a member of the order Vincentian Congregation (C.M.). Among his numerous books and essays are studies in the New Testament. The Bible and Colonialism is his landmark study and prequel to his major opus "Zionism and the State of Israel: A Moral Inquiry (Routledge, 1999).
Marcion redivivus est  Mar 15, 2002
Michael Prior professes to write a study of the relationship between the bible and colonialism

It is important to be quite clear what he means by these terms. By 'bible' he means the Christian 'Old Testament' or Jewish Hebrew bible, or certain traditions within it.

By colonialism he means certain colonial movements with origins in the early modern age, specifically of Latin-America, the Boers and modern political Zionism.

Since Prior admits elsewhere that his primary interest is in Zionism, and that he only included a critique of South Africa and Latin America on the advice of his supervisor, it is his critique of the former that I will address.

Now, Prior is entitled to set any parameters he wishes and limit his topic in any way he pleases.

However, I think he can be justly criticised on several grounds.

He professes to write as a Christian qua Christianity, yet, he omits entirely a critique of the origins of Christian, biblically justified colonial imperialism. An extraordinary omission, to say the least.

Christians, ab initio, both interpreted and, later, justified the colonisation and dispossession of the ancient Jews at the hands of Rome, both pagan and Christian, as the will of a God punishing his people for rejecting Christ.

It goes without saying that this was a post factum justification, perhaps even Christianisation, of an original act of pagan Roman colonial imperialism.

The province of Syria Palaestina (whence 'Palestine') and the pagan colony of Aelia Capitolina (later Christian 'Hierosolyma') were created on the wastes of Judaea and Jerusalem respectively, for the express purpose of erasing the Jewish character of the region for all time -in modern parlance 'ethnic cleansing'.

Further, in the late antique/Byzantine period began concerted Christian settlement throughout the land: from 18 communities in the third century to 96 in the fifth (Avi Yonah, The Jews of Palestine under Roman and Byzantine rule).

I would be curious to know how Prior would describe this process, if not as colonization -de facto (Christian) biblically justified, or Roman treatment, pagan and Christian, of Palestinian Jews if not as genocide -vis a vis his own standards regarding the Palestinians.

That this colonization began to encroach on the surviving Jewish communities in the north few Classical historians dispute (crypto-Zionists, no doubt!). The sixth century Codex Justinianus, for instance, expressly states that any newly built synagogue is 'for the greater glory of the Church' i.e. is to be annexed for Christian use.

By killing, famine, disease, deportation, (economically and socially impelled) migration and defection, the Jews were eroded into a minority in their own land.

One would have thought this an excellent place for a Christian academic to begin a study of Christian biblically justified colonization (colonialism, in modern jargon) and dispossession. However, Prior passes over this period, indeed the entire Classical period (a thousand years of the best documented phase of ancient Jewish and Palestinian history) in almost complete silence (less than 3 pages in a 290 odd page work: his only substantial citation from works of Classical Jewish history revealing, mirum mirorum, the existence of a diaspora!).

Prior then sets out to prove his thesis that Zionism is genocidal and colonial because the Old Testament i.e. ancient Israel was genocidal and colonial.

It goes without saying that any search in early (and most subsequent) Christian and Islamic literature for a Socialist, Marxist-Leninist, anti-Zionist, anti-colonialist or Third Worldist critique of ancient Israel will prove in vain.

The early church regarded itself as the true, spiritual heir of old Israel and the Jews as a serious falling off. Worse still for Prior's thesis, not only does the Qu'ran assume the historicity of the Israelite conquest, it confirms it as the model of pious behaviour: Jihad, the conquest of unbelievers by believers. Arab Muslims thought they were the true successors of the Israelite warrior saints of old -and the Jews a corruption.

This, of course, is what most 'Palestinians' have believed for a thousand years: most Palestinians were Arabs before they were Palestinians and Muslims before they were Arabs. Prior states that the biblical text lay outside the beliefs of most Palestinians: the text, yes; the tradition, no.

Prior then very inadvisably dabbles in recent Biblical/Syro-Palestinian archaeology and historiography.

As though it helps his thesis, he tells us that archaeology (largely of Europeans, Americans and Israelis) does not confirm, inter alia, the 'Joshua' narrative of widespread Israelite conquest and destruction of Canaanite cities.

Indeed, he informs us, the consensus is that ancient Israel arose in a Canaanite milieu (e.g. Hebrew is probably a variant of early Canaanite, El-Yahweh is related to El Taurus) and probably had a large Canaanite component.

Prior seems to think this undermines Hebrew, Israelite, Jewish and, therefore, Zionist connections to The Land.

I am afraid I think it does just the reverse: it means that ancient Israel, Hebrew, the Israelite religion and Judaism were more indigenous to the land, not less.

Worse still, from the view of a nascent Palestinian nationalist ancient historiography it means that the closest living linguistic, literary, religious, and to that extent social and cultural representatives of ancient Canaanites are Jews, especially Israelis who speak that variant of early Canaanite, Hebrew, as their national language.

Christianity and Islam can claim kinship to Canaanite culture -through their descent from Judaism.

If Christians and Muslims have been telling Jews that they (Christians and Muslims) are the true representatives of ancient Israel, they can hardly complain when, given time and opportunity, Jews start behaving like ancient Israelites i.e. proto Christians and Muslims.

Prior opines just the reverse: the Jews are an immeasurable improvement on their ancient genocidal 'forebears' -real or imaginary.

Needless to say, Prior's opinion is of rather recent origin and has little to do with how most Christians (especially Roman Catholics!) and Muslims have regarded and treated most Jews for most of Christian and Islamic history.

This radically antiJudaic antithesising of 'Old' and 'New' testaments is not new: Marcion of Sinope attempted it in the second century -and was declared heretical.

Prior would, it appears, cannonise him.

However, I suspect, he presumes upon the good will of those 'silver tongued Jews' (his description from 'Holy Land, Hollow Jubilee').

Qua Christian? Hardly.


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