Violence, Terror, Genocide, and War in the Holy Books and in the Decades Ahead New Psychological and Sociological Insights on the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur’an By Timothy Philip Schwartz-Barcott


For many hundreds of years, scholars, members of the clergy, antagonists, propagandists, and others have argued about whether some religions and their “holy books” demand and reward acts of violence by their believers against others. Did Jewish people of Biblical times commit acts of violence because of specific passages in the Pentateuch? Did Christian Crusaders invade the Holy Land and kill opponents because of specific passages in the Bible? Did Ottoman Turks invade the Balkans and kill people because of specific passages in the Qur’an?

More recently, which passages in the Pentateuch might have prompted American-born Israeli physician Baruch Goldstein to shoot twenty-nine Muslim worshippers inside the Ibrahim Mosque in Jerusalem? Which passages in the Bible might have prompted American Christian fundamentalist Eric Rudolph to detonate bombs at abortion clinics and at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996? Which passages in the Qur’an might have prompted Osama bin Laden to mastermind and finance the terrorist attacks of 9-11-2001? Which passages might have prompted the hijackers of the four airplanes to slay the pilots during those attacks?

Looking ahead to the next few decades, which passages in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur’an could be used, misused, and abused by literalists, opportunists, and mischief-makers to plan, execute, and try to justify acts of violence against other people? Are there any new “approaches” that could reduce these risks in the decades ahead?

In the last few decades, dozens of books have been published about whether, and how, the “holy books” and specific passages in the “holy books” inspire, promote, and justify acts of terrorism and war. Many of the authors of these books are scholars of religion, religious leaders, journalists, and people who have a limited point of view, a particular theory to support, or a political purpose that limits their objectivity and thoroughness. Some authors contend that one or more of the holy books essentially are violent books, or that they are books of terror or books of war. Many of these authors focus on a limited number of passages that seem to them to be violent, terroristic, and bellicose. By contrast, other authors focus on a limited number of passages that seem to them to be anti-violent and pacifistic. Some of these authors contend that one or more of the holy books essentially are books of peace. A few authors compare two or more of the holy books regarding the number of violent passages. Often they do so by presenting a few dozen verses that are consistent with their particular point of view. Most authors focus on violent events in the past, and most authors do not provide very specific recommendations for reducing possible acts of “holy book violence” in the decades ahead.

This book goes beyond these other books in a number of ways. In order to be as objective and as empirical as possible, it is based on four years of research that uses systematic content analysis to examine every verse in widely available versions of the Old Testament, the New Testament, and the Qur’an. It reports the numbers of verses in each holy book—and their corresponding chapters—which portray or refer to acts of physical violence against humans, including acts of interpersonal violence, terror, genocide, battles, and wars. More importantly, this book examines the qualities of the violent acts that are portrayed. Who is portrayed as committing, advocating, threatening, and predicting what kinds of violence? Against whom? When? For what reasons? With what consequences?

This book reveals that none of the three holy books are dominated by portrayals of violence, terror, genocide, or war—contrary to what many critics and antagonists have claimed. These three books are not “books of violence”; nor are they books of terror or war. The percentages of verses that do portray any form of violence are relatively low—but distinctive and significant. The Old Testament is the only book that portrays and advocates genocide. It also has the highest percentage of verses that portray terror as violence.

In contrast to the Old Testament, the New Testament and the Qur’an have no verses that explicitly advocate violence as timeless, absolute, lethal, and totally encompassing. Verses in the Old Testament also are distinctive in their portrayals of a deity—the god of the Hebrews—who commits, threatens, and promises acts of violence. Often this violence is against believers, as well as against non-believers. This deity also demands and rewards acts of violence by believers against people, clans, nations, and cities that disturb him for any number of reasons. In the Qur’an, Allah claims that He actually commits the violent acts that He demands of His believers. Jews and Christians are not often the targets of said violence. In the New Testament, except for the book called “Revelation,” God and Jesus are never portrayed as committing violence, nor as demanding violence.

Among its many contributions, this book provides thorough, objective, psychological, and sociological analyses of all forms of physical violence against humans, as portrayed in the holiest books of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. It warns us of the many ways that various verses in the holy books might be used, misused, and abused to provoke violent behaviors in the decades ahead. Then it provides us with ten new approaches to reduce these risks.

This book is written in an unpretentious, engaging, and conversational style. It should appeal to a broad audience of college-educated people in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Europe, and the Middle East. Potential readers may be those who are very concerned about acts of so-called “religious terrorism and warfare,” and how verses in each of the holy books might be misused to provoke acts of interpersonal violence, terror, genocide, and war. It should appeal to people who are not very familiar with all three books but may want to learn more about them, as well as to people who are somewhat hostile or suspicious about these books, including atheists and agnostics.

Other important audiences include priests, rabbis, and imams, as well as teachers and students of divinity schools and at universities and colleges that offer courses in psychology, political science, and sociology of deviant behavior, collective behavior, terrorism, interpersonal violence, warfare, and religion.