David A. Leiter. Neglected Voices: Peace in the Old Testament. Herald Press, 2007.
We certainly need more books like this one. Church of the Brethren pastor and Old Testament scholar David Leiter takes on the question of whether peace-oriented Christians should approach the Old Testament more as a problem or more as a positive resource. In helpful ways, he makes a good case for seeing the Old Testament as containing much material that does support our actively seeking peace on earth (and understanding such seeking to be God’s will).
He demonstrates just how important the motif of “shalom” (the Hebrew word usually translated “peace”–though Leiter suggests that the sense shalom carries is significantly bigger than our term “peace”) is throughout the Old Testament. It is good to see a short but comprehensive and persuasive summary of just how central the ideal of shalom is for the ancient Hebrews.
We then are introduced to several stories showing that nonviolence often played an important role in the resolution of conflicts and in attempts to challenge an unjust status quo. Numerous other ways that peace plays an important role in the Old Testament story are then discussed–including visions and mandates for peace.
Leiter has written a most helpful book–it is concise and clear, and makes its case persuasively. He concludes: “When addressing the concept of peace in the Old Testament, we need not begin by looking at the concept of war and violence. The conversation can start off with a discussion of peace. [I] hope that, [for readers of this book,] when conversation emerges regarding the absence or presence of peace in the Old Testament, [they] will be able to identify various passages and address the blank stares and comments that suggest that peace is non-existent or a sidebar in the Old Testament. On the contrary, peace is a central concept in the Old Testament that gave life to the people of ancient Israel and can give life to us today” (pages 155-56).
An additional contribution the book makes is in Leiter’s thorough bibliographic essay that identifies many resources for people interested in the issue of peace in the Old Testament. Since for many of us, this may be a fairly new issue, such guidance for further reading is to be appreciated.