This essay is a continuation of my interests in warfare in the Bronze Age and Iron Age and the literature related to it (Hobbs 1989a; Hobbs and Jackson 1991). In this present form it is more an invitation to discourse than a finished product, and will form the basis of further research. In my book on warfare in ancient Israel (1989a) I wrote much in the concluding chapter about the ‘transformation’ of the language of warfare in the New Testament. I must confess now that the nature of that transformation was not quite as I had imagined it.
The design of this essay will be, first, to note some of the phenomena of the language of warfare in the New Testament and, second, to employ social science models appropriate to the traditional Mediterranean society which offer some explanation of the use of such language. Important in the study will be the work of Daniel Bar Tal on what he calls the ‘Masada syndrome’ (Bar Tal 1984). 1 One additional word of explanation is offered. Because of the size of the task, and because I believe it deserves a separate treatment, I will not comment on the war language in the Apocalypse. 2 My comments on that topic in the last chapter of my 1989 book are now, I believe, in need of drastic revision.
The language of warfare is by no means the dominant mode of discourse throughout the New Testament. In the Gospels, the domestic domain is more often the implied metaphor. 3 Belying its lack of prominence, military language seems to have tweaked the imagination of many Christian writers from the earliest days. In spite of the tendency to see the heart of the Gospel in terms of pacifism (Gliddon 1971), the reality of Christianity has portrayed the opposite. Throughout Christian history there seems to be a ready adoption of the language of warfare in both central and more eccentric forms of theology (Harnack 1981:30-32; Holmes 1976; Kent 1986). 4