Violent Books with Dark Passages

Some say the Qur’an is a book encouraging violence. Philip Jenkins decided to compare the violent passages in the Qur’an with the violent passages in the Bible. He wrote a book, “Dark Passages,” analyzing them. Here’s a summary of his findings from the Boston Globe in 2009.

Citing examples such as these, some Westerners argue that the Muslim scriptures themselves inspire terrorism, and drive violent jihad. Evangelist Franklin Graham has described his horror on finding so many Koranic passages that command the killing of infidels: the Koran, he thinks, “preaches violence.” Prominent conservatives Paul Weyrich and William Lind argued that “Islam is, quite simply, a religion of war,” and urged that Muslims be encouraged to leave US soil. Today, Dutch politician Geert Wilders faces trial for his film “Fitna,” in which he demands that the Koran be suppressed as the modern-day equivalent to Hitler’s “Mein Kampf.” …

But in terms of ordering violence and bloodshed, any simplistic claim about the superiority of the Bible to the Koran would be wildly wrong. In fact, the Bible overflows with “texts of terror,” to borrow a phrase coined by the American theologian Phyllis Trible. The Bible contains far more verses praising or urging bloodshed than does the Koran, and biblical violence is often far more extreme, and marked by more indiscriminate savagery. The Koran often urges believers to fight, yet it also commands that enemies be shown mercy when they surrender. Some frightful portions of the Bible, by contrast, go much further in ordering the total extermination of enemies, of whole families and races – of men, women, and children, and even their livestock, with no quarter granted. One cherished psalm (137) begins with the lovely line, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept”; it ends by blessing anyone who would seize Babylon’s infants and smash their skulls against the rocks.

So how should we read these passages in the Qur’an? The same way we read those in the Bible–in context.