Saturday, September 13, 2008

Warning: Violent Subject Matter

When speaking of the approaching judgment on Jerusalem (primarily, at least), Jesus said in Matt. 24:19:
Woe to pregnant women and nursing mothers in those days!
I've always thought this warning was due to the difficulty of travel, especially in a time of approaching war. And I'm sure that's true. But there may also be a hint of even darker judgment. I noticed as I was reading 2 Kings 15. Verse 16 says:
At that time, [starting] from Tirzah, Menahem attacked Tiphsah, all who were in it, and its territory. Because they wouldn't surrender, he attacked [it and] ripped open all the pregnant women.
Reading that phrase reminded me of Jesus' warning in Matt. 24, and I recalled seeing that phrase elsewhere in my Tanakh ("Old Testament") reading. Doing a quick google on the phrase, I learned that it's more common in the Tanakh than I had thought, and in history in general, with the cruel barbarism of the ancient Assyrians getting special mention. One site noted that the phrase as used in the Tanakh was somewhat formulaic, indicating that this phrase might have been used as a code phrase for barbaric cruelty in general. Bashing small children against rocks was also common during these violent attacks.

My googling also found a recent example, in which Muslims in 2004 slaughtered 600 Christians, burning and mutilating them, and ripping open pregnant women.

It just struck me that since Jesus was intimately familiar with the Tanahk, these barbaric practices may have been a nuance in his meaning when he gave the above-mentioned warning. We (or at least "I") tend to read this "Day of Judgment" passage rather academically, without absorbing the horror inherent in it; this suggestion of violence against pregnant women highlights to me more of the flavor of the passage that I suspect Jesus intended to deliver.

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