David M. Carr, Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014).
This isn’t hyperbole: David M. Carr’s Holy Resilience: The Bible’s Traumatic Origins may be the best book written about the Bible that I’ve ever read. In one sense, it does what the ‘Biblical Theology’ movement has attempted to do: provide an overarching canonology that accounts for the unification of this collection (or these collections). In another sense, it does what critical scholarship on the Bible often fails to do: show how the Bible can remain relevant, even life-giving, without resorting to a conservative Bibliology.
There are two threads that tied this book together for me and in turn that tie the Bible together for me: (1) the impact of collective and individual trauma on the creation of the Bible (Carr is a Christian so by ‘Bible’ he’s including the Jewish and Christian Bibles) and (2) the various waves of adaptation, adoption, or even supersessionism that make up the Bible.
Let me begin with the first thread. Carr emphasizes how collective traumas such as the Assyrian invasion, the Babylonian Exile (including the destruction of Jerusalem and the First Temple), the waves of returning exiles, the emergence of the Greeks and the counter-emergence of the Hasmoneans, the execution of Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple by the Romans, and broad Roman disdain for the ‘atheistic’ Jews and Christians shaped these collections but also the movements that inspired them and in turn have been inspired by them.
This means re-reading popular Bible stories through the lens of trauma, such as Genesis’ Abraham (living in Babylonia, leaving, and having descendants in spite of the odds against it) or Exodus’ Moses (the Exodus itself, Passover, and the reminder of enslavement that comes with these stories). These stories were told as a means of addressing the experience of exiles.
As to the second thread: In Chapter 2, ‘The Birth of Monotheism’, Carr read the Book of Hosea as an important shift toward monotheism wherein the prophet doesn’t blame the Assyrians for the demise of Israel, but blames Israel, and in an effort to regain some sense of control, argues that Yahweh willed it all. Monotheism’s problem, ‘Theodicy’, is essential to monotheism because monotheism emerged as a way of addressing the chaos of life. Carr has a wonderful line on p. 248 for people that might be repulsed by these origins: ‘Those inclined to ridicule the idea of a powerful, violent God—whether Jewish or Christian—might well defer their disdain until they encounter someone for whom that idea is the only thing giving him or her a sense of control over an otherwise overwhelming chaos.’ That line stopped me and made me think of people I know, have known, and even stages of my own life and theology.
What Carr observes regarding supersessionism is this: Judah embraced Hosea’s ideas even though Hosea was a prophet from Israel. And then over time, Judah began to refer to themselves as ‘Israel’ once Israel was gone. And therefore, in some sense, it’s no surprise that partially by way of Paul, and partially by way of Rome’s treatment of Jews and Christians, the gentile Christians came to see themselves, in some way, as the heirs of ‘Israel’s’ story just as Judah once did. Additionally, we could add Islam to this discussion, which Carr does only in passing. But the trend is there, from Judah becoming the true Israel, to ‘the Church’ becoming the true Israel, to Islam becoming the truest version of both, supersessionism abounds.
As a final word, let me say if the Bible is meaningful to you, read this book. And let me share this paragraph from p. 250 that really summarizes the beauty of seeing the Bible through the lens offered by Carr:
‘I’m profoundly impressed with how the Bible is saturated with trauma and survival of it. If the Bible were a person, it would be a person bearing the scars, plated broken bones, muscle tears, and other wounds of prolonged suffering. It would be a person whose identity, perhaps average at one time, was now profoundly shaped by trauma. This person would certainly have known joys and everyday life, but she or he also would bear, in body and heart, the wisdom of centuries of trauma. He or she would know the truth of trauma and the survival of it. Just like the suffering servant of Isaiah or the crucified Christ, that person would not be pretty to look at. We might be tempted to avert our eyes. But for most of us, there will be a time when we need that person’s wisdom.’