David Ker is asking questions. What are we supposed to do with a passage like 2 Kgs 2:23-25?
וַיַּעַל מִשָּׁם בֵּית־אֵל
וְהוּא עֹלֶה בַדֶּרֶךְ
וּנְעָרִים קְטַנִּים יָצְאוּ מִן־הָעִיר
וַיִּתְקַלְּסוּ־בוֹ וַיֹּאמְרוּ לוֹ
עֲלֵה קֵרֵחַ עֲלֵה קֵרֵחַ׃
וַיִּפֶן אַחֲרָיו וַיִּרְאֵם
וַיְקַלְלֵם בְּשֵׁם יְהוָה
וַתֵּצֶאנָה שְׁתַּיִם דֻּבִּים מִן־הַיַּעַר
וַתְּבַקַּעְנָה מֵהֶם אַרְבָּעִים וּשְׁנֵי יְלָדִים׃
there he made the ascent to Bethel.
While on the road and climbing,
a group of boys came out from town
and made sport of him:
“Climb on, baldy!
Climb on, baldy!”
He turned around, took one look at them,
and cursed them in the name of YHWH.
Two she-bears came out from the woods
and tore to pieces 42 of the children.
The assumptions of the narrative are the following. Prophets not only have the power to heal; they also have the power to kill. If they didn’t, it could not be said that God endowed them with his power, because God, notoriously, has the power to kill, not only the power to bring to life.
Elisha, whose curse in God’s name leads to the death of 42 children, is the same person who by the power of YHWH sanitizes the water supply of a town, such that the lives of generations of its inhabitants would be preserved (2 Kgs 2:19-22). He is the same person who by the power of YHWH restores the son of the woman of Shunem to life (2 Kgs 4:8-37).
The rabbis knew themselves to have the same powers, and the Talmud contains accounts thereof. As Rabban Simeon ben Gamaliel said in a comment to this passage:
רבן שמעון בן גמליאל אומר
כל מקום שנתנו חכמים עיניהם
או מיתה או עוני
Simeon ben Gamaliel says:
wherever the sages fix their eyes,
it’s either death or calamity. (Talmud Bavli, Sotah 46b)
The apostles are also said to have had such powers. A well-known example from the New Testament, every bit as horrible as the 2 Kgs passage, is the following:
A man named Ananias, however, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property. He retained for himself, with his wife's knowledge, some of the purchase price, took the remainder, and put it at the feet of the apostles. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart so that you lied to the Holy Spirit and retained part of the price of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain yours? And when it was sold, was it not still under your control? Why did you contrive this deed? You have lied not to human beings, but to God." When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last, and great fear came upon all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped him up, then carried him out and buried him. After an interval of about three hours, his wife came in, unaware of what had happened. Peter said to her, "Tell me, did you sell the land for this amount?" She answered, "Yes, for that amount." Then Peter said to her, "Why did you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen, the footsteps of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out." At once, she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men entered they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things. (NAB Acts 5:1-11)
I don’t think David Ker is doing anything unusual when he gives Peter a free pass whereas he considers Elisha to be a bad boy. That’s a typical Christian trick. We’ve seen this movie before. It’s a well-worn path, that of turning the people of the Old Testament, and the God they worshipped, into a whipping boy.
David speaks of the Old Covenant as a dispensation in which “the spirit comes upon you once in a while so you can kill a lot of heathen and the rest of the time you kill goats to get close to God.” Not so the saints of the New, David thinks, those who have “Christ in us.” Killing, evidently, is the last thing on a Christian’s mind. But he fails to note that the followers of Jesus, once martyred and beneath the throne of God, are seen by John the Seer to repeat the following:
When he broke open the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered because of the witness they bore to the word of God. They cried out in a loud voice, "How long will it be, holy and true master, before you sit in judgment and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?" (NAB Revelation 6:9-10
I see no reason to doubt the vision of John.
According to David, “The new kingdom and its covenant of faith changed the rules of the game and has been leading a pacifist revolt ever since.” This formulation is filled with the usual blindness that afflicts Christians, blindfolded as they often are when reading Scripture. It is a passage of Torah, in the book of Leviticus, that teaches the principle of love of one’s enemy [you all know the passage by heart]. It is a prophet of the Old Covenant who reveals that the righteous live by faith. After all, they always have, and they always will. Can’t be an heir of Abraham if you don’t. Furthermore, the “pacifist revolt” goes hand in hand, both in the Old and New Testaments, with the power of the keys (to use a NT phrase), such that the gift of God’s Spirit not only brings salvation, but also judgment.
The nice thing about living in the modern world is that judgment is no longer mediated by men and women of God. Prophets like Deborah, Joan of Arc, Elisha and Zwingli no longer foment war. The propaganda aspect of war is now handled by the Rabshakehs of this world. State propaganda in which religion is merely a means to an end worked for imperialists of old. Why shouldn’t it work for us?
The fighting of war has been taken away from Spirit-filled men willing to die in order to kill others. No more Samsons, no more minutemen, no more young boys with slingshots. The prosecution of war has been delegated to entities like command centrals of the US Armed Forces and the equivalent of the People’s Republic of China. The important thing, for Jews and Christians, too, apparently, is that they are atheist in principle and atheist in practice. “Whose own might is their god.” A winning strategy, no doubt.
In our day, neither prophets nor apostles nor rabbis “say the word,” and death strikes. This we call progress. There is only one disadvantage to the new setup. Neither prophets nor apostles nor rabbis say the word, and healing occurs.
To be continued.