We are proud to offer an exclusive excerpt from
John Nugent’s brand new book The Politics of Yahweh,
which will debut at SBL later this month.
Watch for our review before the end of year…
The Politics of Yahweh:
John Howard Yoder,
The Old Testament
and the People of God.
Paperback: Cascade Books, 2011.
Back Cover Description
John Howard Yoder is most famous for arguing in The Politics of Jesus that a sound reading of the New Testament demonstrates the abiding relevance of Jesus to social ethics. However, it is seldom acknowledged that Yoder makes essentially the same argument with regard to the Old Testament. Throughout his extensive writings, Yoder offers a provocative interpretation of the Old Testament that culminates in the way of Jesus and establishes the ethical, ecclesiological, and historiographical continuity of the entire biblical canon. In The Politics of Yahweh, presented as a prequel to The Politics of Jesus, John C. Nugent makes Yoder’s complete Old Testament interpretation accessible in one place for the first time.
Nugent does not view Yoder’s interpretation as flawless. Rather, Nugent moves beyond summary to offer honest critique and substantial revision. His constructive proposal, which stands in fundamental continuity with the work of Yoder, is likely to provoke much thought from theologians, biblical scholars, and ethicists. Even at points where readers disagree with some of his and Yoder’s interpretations, they will be challenged to explore new perspectives and rethink common assumptions concerning issues that arise from sustained reflection on the Old Testament.
Excerpt from Chapter Two
Yoder’s reading of the prediluvian narrative focuses primarily on three characters: Cain, Abel, and Lamech. His analysis of the events surrounding these men’s lives is crucial to his appropriation of the Old Testament for ethics, ecclesiology, and historiography because in them he further spells out the nature of the fallen human social order and the governing state in particular. Yoder’s starting point is Cain’s murder of Abel.
Cain, Abel, and Societal Estrangement
Though Yoder acknowledges that the age-old tension between herdsmen and farmers lurks in the background of Cain’s murder of Abel in Genesis 4, he attempts to root this tension in something more fundamental that is organically connected to the preceding chapters. Prior to the Fall, the ground produced fruit liberally for human gathering and consumption. There was a peaceful and cooperative relationship between Adam and the soil. This all changed with sin. Now the ground clings to its produce and humans must wrest fruit from its tenacious clutches (3:17–18). Thus the occupation of gardening, which Cain inherited from his father, had sprouted from the soil of inter-creational disharmony. Yoder does not therefore regard it as sinful to participate in this occupation; he acknowledges that it is necessary for human sustenance. It remains embroiled in ambivalence nonetheless.
Abel, on the other hand, represents a partial throwback to Edenic harmony. Rather than struggle against the soil, he finds a way to cooperate with it—moving his flocks from place to place, taking from the soil what it freely gives, and circumventing the task of scratching away at it to get more. God favored Abel’s offering not because God favors shepherds nor because Abel gave the best of his flock, but because Abel’s offering represented a life more in tune with God’s original harmony. Both the offering and the life of the one submitting it represent the wholeness God intends for his creation. It is not that Cain had sinned in being a farmer and offering his produce; his offering simply did not smell as sweet due to the ambivalence of the entire process that produced it. Cain’s sin is not his chosen profession but his choice to kill his brother in cold blood rather than to acknowledge and accept that Abel was closer to God’s created intentions than he was.
The consequences of Cain’s violence do not end there. The voice of his brother’s blood cries out to God after having seeped into the soil. This only exacerbates the already unnatural relationship Cain has with that soil. Cain is therefore banished from it and forced to find his livelihood elsewhere, neither in the fields nor among the field-dependent flocks. Since he cannot be trusted with his brother’s life, he cannot be trusted with fields and flocks.
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