A Few Observation About
Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and War

by Nile Stanton
Sunday - April 2, 2023  

      Although people may think it is difficult to find any reasonably consistent core values in the Torah, Bible, and Qur'an, and some have obtained the notion that there are none, I urge that you consider the following analysis.

      Keep in mind that the mere fact that these sacred books are religious tomes does not mean they don't provide some historical perspective and interesting ideas. Now, let's go to well-known Deuteronomy 20 and take a good look at it.

       In his essay "War and Peace in the Jewish Tradition," Michael Walzer notes that Deuteronomy 20 is central to later rabbinical analysis of any "Jewish" theory of war, such as it is. Written around 1400 B.C. (tradition says, although recent analysis puts it around 700 years later) by Moses, this is Deuteronomy 20 in its entirety, verses 1-20. ["Deuteronomy" approximately means "repeating (or copying) the law."] Please read this carefully, and think about it:

  • 1 When thou goest out to battle against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater thou, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you.
  • 2 When you are about to go into battle, the priest shall come forward and address the army.
  • 3 He shall say: "Hear, O Israel, today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not be terrified or give way to panic before them.
  • 4 For the LORD your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory."
  • 5 The officers shall say to the army: "Has anyone built a new house and not dedicated it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else may dedicate it.
  • 6 Has anyone planted a vineyard and not begun to enjoy it? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else enjoy it.
  • 7 Has anyone become pledged to a woman and not married her? Let him go home, or he may die in battle and someone else marry her."
  • 8 Then the officers shall add, "Is any man afraid or fainthearted? Let him go home so that his brothers will not become disheartened too."
  • 9 When the officers have finished speaking to the army, they shall appoint commanders over it.
  • 10 When you march up to attack a city, make its people an offer of peace.
  • 11 If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you.
  • 12 If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city.
  • 13 When the LORD your God delivers it into your hand, put to the sword all the men in it.
  • 14 As for the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city, you may take these as plunder for yourselves. And you may use the plunder the LORD your God gives you from your enemies.
  • 15 This is how you are to treat all the cities that are at a distance from you and do not belong to the nations nearby.
  • 16 However, in the cities of the nations the LORD your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.
  • 17 Completely destroy them--the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites--as the LORD your God has commanded you.
  • 18 Otherwise, they will teach you to follow all the detestable things they do in worshiping their gods, and you will sin against the LORD your God.
  • 19 When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them?
  • 20 However, you may cut down trees that you know are not fruit trees and use them to build siege works until the city at war with you falls.

       I submit that some noble values are to be found in verses 5-8 above. (Scroll up and re-read those.) Consider this: The Israelites of olden times were well known as fierce, bloody, brutal fighters. So, what did Moses do? He dared to forthrightly challenge the military to alter prevailing practices. As Walzer notes in his article, what Moses did was to present almost any reasonable out for those who wanted to avoid going to war.

      Consider the main thrust of Moses' relating of what the Lord God instructed. Soldiers who had new homes, vineyards, or fiancées -- and just plain old chickens such as the "fainthearted" -- got exemptions from fighting. Not only that, we also find that God forbids attacking a city without making a peace offer. I suggest that these selected passages accurately reflected core values that Moses attempted to instill. In a real sense, people were provided with every sort of excuse to avoid war.

       Consider another Old Testament passage: 2 Chronicles 28:1-15. Ezra condemns jus in bello violations even when there is jus ad bellum, here a sanctioned "holy war."

  • 1 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD.
  • 2 He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made idols for the worship of Baal. [Or Val, the Bull, the consort of Astarte, aka/ Ishtar, Isis, Ashtoreth, the main goddess of the Middle East in ancient times, in honor of whom King Solomon's temple was built. --ns]
  • 3 He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.
  • 4 He offered sacrifices and burned incense at the high places, on the hilltops and under every spreading tree.
  • 5 Therefore the LORD his God handed him over to the king of Aram. The Arameans defeated him and took many of his people as prisoners and brought them to Damascus. He was also given into the hands of the king of Israel, who inflicted heavy casualties on him.
  • 6 In one day Pekah son of Remaliah killed a hundred and twenty thousand soldiers in Judah--because Judah had forsaken the LORD, the God of their fathers.
  • 7 Zicri, an Ephraimite warrior, killed Maaseiah the king's son, Azrikam the officer in charge of the palace, and Elkanah, second to the king.
  • 8 The Israelites took captive from their kinsmen two hundred thousand wives, sons and daughters. They also took a great deal of plunder, which they carried back to Samaria.
  • 9 But a prophet of the LORD named Oded was there, and he went out to meet the army when it returned to Samaria. He said to them, "Because the LORD, the God of your fathers, was angry with Judah, he gave them into your hand. But you have slaughtered them in a rage that reaches to heaven.
  • 10 And now you intend to make the men and women of Judah and Jerusalem your slaves. But aren't you also guilty of sins against the LORD your God?
  • 11 Now listen to me! Send back your fellow countrymen you have taken as prisoners, for the LORD's fierce anger rests on you." [It appears that some people who lived in Samaria took to heart this advice favoring human decency and passed values relating to it down to at least a few descendants. Consider, for example, Luke's recounting, in the New Testament, of Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan. (Luke 10:30-37) --ns]
  • 12 Then some of the leaders in Ephraim--Azariah son of Jehohanan, Berekiah son of Meshillemoth, Jehizkiah son of Shallum, and Amasa son of Hadlai--confronted those who were arriving from the war.
  • 13 "You must not bring those prisoners here," they said, "or we will be guilty before the LORD. Do you intend to add to our sin and guilt? For our guilt is already great, and his fierce anger rests on Israel."
  • 14 So the soldiers gave up the prisoners and plunder in the presence of the officials and all the assembly.
  • 15 The men designated by name took the prisoners, and from the plunder they clothed all who were naked. They provided them with clothes and sandals, food and drink, and healing balm. All those who were weak they put on donkeys. So they took them back to their fellow countrymen at Jericho, the City of Palms, and returned to Samaria.

       What happened here? It seems that God okayed Israel's attack on Judah, but the violence went far beyond what God would tolerate. Israel's army had slaughtered many civilians and kidnapped others. Oded, a prophet, reprimanded the soldiers for the war crimes they'd committed during their rage. While the Israelites had fought a war for just cause (viz., to punish those who, among other ways, offended God by making human sacrificial lambs out of their children), they had failed to show justice during war. So, Oded persuaded them to give up their plunder and prisoners and to make restitution. Accordingly, Israel's army fed and clothed the POWs, gave them sandals and medicine, then put them on donkeys and sent them home.

       Also interesting is what we find when we examine what the Old Testament tells us God warned of when called upon to select a king. Take a look at 1 Samuel 8, especially verses 6-18, which I quote below.

  • 6 But when they said, "Give us a king to lead us," this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the LORD.
  • 7 And the LORD told him: "Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.
  • 8 As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you.
  • 9 Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will do."
  • 10 Samuel told all the words of the LORD to the people who were asking him for a king.
  • 11 He said, "This is what the king who will reign over you will do: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots.
  • 12 Some he will appoint as commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots.
  • 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers.
  • 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants.
  • 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants.
  • 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use.
  • 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves.
  • 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day.

       These admittedly very select passages indicate that the Old Testament has passages which can be construed as reflecting certain ideals that many people -- Jews, then Christians, and later Muslims alike -- shared. Remember that it is written in the Qur'an that the sacred books of the Jews and Christians are indeed Holy Books. Mohammad's message from Gabriel recognizes that God (Allah, YHWH [Yahweh, Jehovah] -- one and the same) wants the Prophet to wage war only to secure peace. In this important sense, the Qur'anic teachings are consistent with those found in the sacred books of the Christians and Jews.

      But, isn't it true that religious differences often lead to war? No, not at all. It is political and military leaders who stir up emotions over religious differences; they urge that religious differences are a threat when they rarely are.

      In a BBC-sponsored study titled "God and War: An Audit & An Exploration" by Greg Austin, Todd Kranock and Thom Oommen (link is to the 42-page .pdf) the authors wrote, that:

  • One organising feature of this article is what it calls the ‘Religious War Audit’. BBC asked us to see how many wars had been caused by religion. After reviewing historical analyses by a diverse array of specialists, we concluded that there have been few genuinely religious wars in the last 100 years. The Israel/Arab wars from 1948 to now, often painted in the media and other places as wars over religion, or wars arising from religious differences, have in fact been wars of nationalism, liberation of territory or self-defense.
  • The Islamist fundamentalist terror war being led by Osama bin Laden, also often painted in media commentary as a war about Islamic fundamentalism, is more about political order in the Arab countries, and the presence of US forces in Muslim countries, than it is about religious conversion of foreigners or expansion of territory in the name of God. * * * *

(Emphasis added.)  
See also Micke Wooldridge's short February 24, 2004, BBC piece titled "Can religion be blamed for war?"

Conclusion. -

       "Let us fight our enemies" is not the salutation all three of the major monotheistic faiths have in common. Rather, it is "Peace Be With You.” Many Jewish, Muslim, and Christian fundamentalists have over the course of history appeared to believe this can be honestly wished only upon those who share the same faith, i.e., are members of the same in-group. The Torah, Bible, and Qur'an all contain passages, however, favoring the notion that life should be highly valued and war avoided, and further indicating that it would not constitute heresy in any faith to wish peace upon members of all faiths. Further, it seems to me that the so-called "realist" "just war" scholars frequently overlook some important basic teachings in the Holy Books. The singular value of the quest for peace is one.




* Nile Stanton lives in southern Spain. He was a professor for the University of Maryland University College for 20 years, where he taught U.S. active duty service members on U.S. military bases in Spain, Italy, Bosnia, and (mostly) Greece as well as online to troops throughout Europe and Asia. The course he taught most often (32 iterations) was the upper-level government course called “Law, Morality, and War.” Thereafter, he taught for the University of New England at its Tangier, Morocco, campus for two years, where his signature course was “War and Public Health.” He was born and raised a Quaker and tends to examine the excuses for war and lack of diplomacy more carefully and from a different perspective than many people.

Nile |@|