When our minister mentioned Judeo-Christian religion’s history and “redemptive violence.” I must admit I was flummoxed. Stumped–as what on earth that might mean. I let my fancy go, and imagined it was something to do with Jesus’ terrible and violent death and then the good news after it, at least if you were a believing Christian. For our family, it generally meant chocolate bunnies and hidden Easter eggs.
Moving on in my imagination about redemptive violence, I came to the Genesis story. Frankly, that didn’t seem too bloody, but the part about god kicking Adam and Eve out of the garden of Eden seemed pretty mean of god, violent even. I had never really understood why eating an apple, that most delicious of fruits was such a bad thing. And furthermore, I thought knowledge was a GOOD thing. However, as a child, I accepted the story, and understood that sometimes adults told you NOT to do a certain thing and that made it all the more tempting, and it could result in a spanking. And, as I got older, I wondered why Eve was to blame.
Then our pastor, who is a woman, gave me a paper presented by a theologian, Walter Wink, titled “Facing the Myth of Redemptive Violence.” (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/content/cpt/article_060823wink.shtml )I don’t pretend to understand it all but in it, he draws parallels between modern life and the Babylonian Creation Myth. The myth dates to around 1250 BCE and is called the Enuma Elis. It was recorded in cuneiform on clay tablets found in Mosel, Iraq in 1849. I’m going to attempt to re-tell the myth in my own words, and in a simplified version. It’s R rated and not a story for the faint of heart.
In the beginning, there were two gods, a male and a female. Apsu and Tiamat. He was fresh water and she was salt water. They had many children and their children had children. According to the myth, the younger gods got very rowdy and made so much noise that the older gods had trouble sleeping. The older gods decided that the way to get some sleep was to kill the younger gods. Soon, however, the younger gods got wind of the plot and killed Apsu. His wife, Tiamat, also called the Dragon of Chaos who sometimes appeared as a snake–think Genesis–vowed revenge for her husband’s death, and mounted a fearsome army. The rowdy gods turned to a young and very powerful male god called Marduk. Marduk said he’d face Tiamat, but his price was to become the supreme leader of all the gods. They agreed. And so, Marduk caught Tiamat in a net, drove a hurricane down her throat, shot an arrow that pierced her heart, split her head open and scatterd her body parts in out-of-the-way places. To top it all off, he splits her in two, and arranges what’s left of her body end to end, sort of like a giant clamshell, and that ends up being the world. One part of her body became the sky, the other the earth. But there’s more…Marduk then took over the world and made the remaining gods work the fields and keep the ditches clear and other tasks which they found distasteful, And so, even though things were nice and orderly, they objected. In response, Marduk and his father executed one of the gods and from his blood they created– wait-for-it–humans, whose job on earth was to become servants to the gods.
That is redemptive violence. Murder and mayhem–of a female deity– beget creation. Humans are created from the blood of a murdered god.
In Walter Wink’s words this myth “is the story of victory of order over chaos by means of violence….”Order,” he says, “requires the violent suppression of the feminine and is mirrored in the social order by the subjection of women to men and people to ruler.”
As a Unitarian Universalist, what was I to make of this? Why, I might ask, did Tiamat and Eve cause all the trouble in these myths? Why, in today’s world are we seeing a rise in violence against women and children? Why did our Florida Representative Trey Radel and our Senator Marco Rubio vote against the Violence Against Women Act? Many, many complex questions arise because of and as a result of violence, and once again I am thankful for being here, now, in in my Unitarian Universalist community where such questions can even be considered. Redemptive violence, May it not be so. But may we at least consider its history.