Horrible histories, terrible texts – a sidebar on when scripture seems unholy

This post is in the series Rite Reading.

There are a number of places in the bible where we encounter stories that are difficult, not only because we find them hard to understand, but because we find them morally repugnant. Quite often, the biblical story-teller narrates them without giving the listener any real clue what to think about them. The feminist scholar Phyllis Trible refers to them as Texts of Terror and many of those she focusses on are about women as the victims of male violence.

Some of these stories occur already in the first book of the Bible, so this seems like a good place to comment on them. One of the most famous of this kind of story – but by no means the worst – is at once bafflingly brutal and strangely powerful. It is effectively what we today would call a story of physical child abuse. It crops up in the lectionary on several occasions.

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