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The Bible’s Yahweh, a War-God?: Called “Lord of Armies” Over 280 Times in the Bible and “Lord of Peace” Just Once (II)

Please read The Bible’s Yahweh, a War-God?: Called “Lord of Armies” Over 280 Times in the Bible and “Lord of Peace” Just Once (I) first.

A quick glance at the list of God’s names in the Bible (refer to link above) shows that most of them depict God’s Might and Power (including Lord of Armies, which depicts his might on the battlefield), but only very rarely is God described as loving, peaceful, merciful, forgiving, and beneficent.

Contrast this to God’s names in the Quran.  Here are the twenty-five most frequently used names for God found therein:

Twenty-Five Most Frequently Used Names for God in the Quran

1. God (Allah, Al-Iah): over 2,700 times
2. Lord (Al-Rub): over 950 times
3. The All-Merciful, The Most Merciful (Al-Rahman, Al-Rahim): 306 times, another 4 times as The Most Merciful Among the Merciful (Ar-Hamu Ar-Rahimeen) and 11 times as The Extremely Merciful (Al-Ra’ouf)

4. The All-Knowing (Al-Alim): 162 times
5. The Wise (Al-Hakim): 114 times
6. The Forgiving (Al-Ghafur, Al-Ghaffar, Al-Ghafir): 93 times, another 1 time as The Vast in Forgiveness (Wasi’u Al-Maghfirah)

7. The Mighty (Al-Aziz): 64 times
8. The All-Hearing (Al-Sami’u): 46 times
9.  The All-Seeing (Al-Basir): 46 times
10.  The All-Aware (Al-Khabir): 46 times
11.  The All-Capable (Al-Qadir): 46 times
12.  The Self-Sufficient (Al-Ghaniy): 21 times
13.  The Witness (Al-Shahid): 20 times
14.  The Knower of the Unseen (Alimu Al-Ghaybi, Alimu Al-Ghaybi wa al-Shahada, Allam Al-Ghiyoob): 17 times

15.  The Patron (Al-Wakil): 13 times
16.  The Acceptor of Repentance (Al-Tawwab): 11 times
17.  The All-Able (Al-Qadir): 11 times
18.  The Clement, Forbearer, Forgiver (Al-Halim): 10 times, another 5 times as The Pardoner (Al-’Afuw)

19.  The Praised (Al-Hamid): 10 times
20.  The Truth (Al-Haq): 10 times
21.  The Powerful (Al-Qawiy): 9 times
22.  The Vast (Wasi’u): 9 times
23.  The Creator (Al-Khaliq): 8 times
24.  The Great (Al-Adhim): 8 times
25. The Peace (Al-Salam): 7 times

One immediately notices a theme here: the God of the Quran is The All-Merciful, The Most Merciful,  The Most Merciful Among the Merciful, The Extremely Merciful, The Most Compassionate, The Most Beneficent, The Most Forgiving, The Acceptor of Repentance, The Clement, The Forbearer, The Pardoner, etc.  As Prof.  William Schweiker notes on p.52 of Humanity Before God that “…the Qur’an frequently emphasizes God’s mercy, pardon, and forgiveness…”

Prof. Harold A. Netland writes on p.78 of Dissonant Voices that “the early preaching of the prophet [Muhammad] ‘spoke of God’s power and his goodness to human beings.’”  Prof. Caesar E. Farah writes on p.133 of Islam: Beliefs and Observances:

In the early days of Muhammad’s preachings he stressed rahmah (mercy) and Rahman (the merciful) so much that his listeners believed he was calling upon them to worship a god called al-Rahman

The Qur’an contains numerous revelations on mercy, ending with the words “Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”

In fact, every single chapter of the Quran aside from one starts with a verse calling on God the All-Merciful, the Most Merciful.

This emphasis on Allah’s Mercy is altogether unlike Yahweh’s emergence as Israel’s war-god; the Canaanites came to fear the terror of Yahweh, such that even seeing the Ark struck fear in their hearts.  For example, as Henricus Oort’s Bible for Learners (vol.1, p.337) so presciently notes, Rahab (a Canaanite) cooperates with the Israelite army “because she feared Yahweh,” as she had seen what Yahweh had done to the surrounding nations.  Indeed, the Israelites benefited from portraying their god as particularly brutal and cruel, which caused Israel’s enemies to be paralyzed by fear.

*  *  *  *  *

Most of the other names of Allah refer to His Power (such as the All-Hearing, All-Seeing, All-Knowing, etc.), but without any association to war.  In fact, not a single name or description of God in the Quran attributes war to God.  Unlike the Bible, one simply cannot find in the Islamic holy book a name of God such as “Lord of Armies,” or a description such as a “man of war” or “warrior.”

There is a reason for this: Allah was never understood to be a “war-god.” Quite simply, there is no “divine warrior god” theme found in the Quran.  Unlike Yahweh who entered the Judeo-Christian tradition as a war-god, Allah was known during Islam’s birth as a creator God.  Writes Prof. Harold A. Netland on p.76 of Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth:

Above all the gods, distant and remote, was Allah, the God, creator of the world.

As Prof. Jonathan P. Berkey notes on p.42 of The Formation of Islam, Allah “represented a remote creator god.”  Unlike Yahweh, Allah was not thought to march out on the battlefield alongside the soldiers. Instead of Allah, the pagans brought along idols such as Hubal to the battlefront.  Dr. Malise Ruthven writes on p.28 of Islam in the World that “the pagans carried some of [their] idols as standards into battle,” but this was not the case with Allah as there were “no images of Allah” (p.21 of Prof. William E. Phipps’ book Muhammad and Jesus).

In their battle against other tribes or against the Muslims, the pagans of Mecca did not carry with them the “remote, creator God” that was Allah, but instead took with them “Hubal, a war god” (p.13 of Prof. Matthew S. Gordon’s Islam).  This did not change with the early Muslims, who never believed that Allah was ever physically present on the battlefield.  Instead, the Prophet Muhammad and early Muslims would point upwards to the sky when they referred to Allah.  Whether or not this meant that the Islamic God was literally “above the heavens” or merely otherworldly  (a matter of intense debate among Muslims today), the fact is that Allah was never thought to reside on earth, an idea that has always been considered blasphemous to Muslims.

In other words, the Israelites acquired a war-god, whereas the early Muslims acquired a creator god.  Yahweh, a war-god, later acquired the ability to create; Allah, a creator god, later acquired the ability to assist in wars.  But, there is a difference between being a war-god and being a god that can assist in wars.  The former defines the god’s primary role to be war, whereas the latter holds war to be one function of many.  It is the difference between being a chef by occupation and being a journalist who sometimes cooks.  Stated another way: Yahweh was principally a war-god, whereas Allah was principally a creator god who also had the capability to assist in wars.

Additionally, it should be noted that although Allah did come to assist the early Muslims in wars, He only did so through divine agents.  It was believed that He dispatched an army of angels to fight for the faithful.  Nowhere does God Himself become a “divine warrior” and march out onto the battlefield.  This is an important difference, and one that explains why Allah is not understood to be a “warrior god” like Yahweh.

*  *  *  *  *

As noted in my disclaimer to this Series, nowhere is this information meant to be used to vilify Judaism or Christianity.  Suffice to say, there are plenty of “tricky issues” in the Islamic faith that should make the Muslim believer think twice before lobbing polemical grenades against people of other religions.  There is almost nothing I find more odious than adherents of a religion viciously attacking other religions.

Yet, it is completely appropriate in our very specific and particular context–in which Muslims and Islam are vilified by the majoritarian religious group–to chop anti-Muslim demagogues down to size.  One of the easiest ways to do this is to subject their own religion to the standards that they themselves foist upon Islam.  When this is done, what can they do but choke on their own medicine?

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  • dude

    @ Danios

    “And here I quoted the Bible, which would be the equivalent of the Quran and Hadith.”

    The word “Bible” is not applicable to how Jews read this assortment of texts. Christians group all of our books together without distinctions and refer to them collectively as the “Old Testament”. They then add a “New Testament” and this is the “Bible” you refer to.
    Jews have the Chumash/ Pentateuch/Torah which is our “Quran”. The other books of the “Old Testament” which we refer to as Neviim (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings) are beautiful histories, prophetic musings, moral teachings, etc… but are in an entirely different category from Chumash/Torah/Pentateuch due to what Jews consider the unique nature of Moses’s Prophecy.
    The article that I linked to in an earlier comment demonstrates this.

    http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/halak66/13halak.htm

    It presents the religious starting off point for Halakhic discussion of killing civilians in war as the massacre of the people of Sh’chem by Shimon and Levi. By the “Bible=Quran/Hadith” logic there should be lengthy discussions of the many relevant passages in Joshua, Chronicles, Kings, etc… but these are absent for the simple reason that we do not derive Halakha from these Books.
    The Midrashic/Talmudic material which constitutes the Oral Torah is a better bet when trying to define our equivalent of the Hadith.
    On Loonwatch Christian understandings of the texts are often assumed to apply equally to Judaism. Tactically this may save the writer time, but will inevitably detract from the efficacy of his/her argument.
    The Halakha and Christian War series are revealing because when the lens is focused on one or the other of the two religions the quality of the argumentation (in my opinion) goes way up.

    “Judaism, like Islam and every other religion, has tolerant and intolerant interpretations.”

    Agreed, however I think it is important to note how these differing interpretations often exist within the same human being. This explains how a religious leader can present both “tolerant” and “intolerant” interpretations within a single lifetime.
    A good example is Rabbi Goren’s statements as presented in the vbm-torah article as opposed to those presented in the Halakha series. This is not to defend or condemn his views or actions, but only to say that if a modern bureaucrat Rabbi can easily be presented in another context so much more so epoch-changing religious leaders of past millennia.

  • Danios

    @ dude:

    I may be unfamiliar with JW and other such sites but it seems to me that what they use is actual Muslim sources such as Quran, Hadith, Legal codes, etc…

    And here I quoted the Bible, which would be the equivalent of the Quran and Hadith.

    As for legal codes, that was later on in my series, which I started with the Halakha series.

    As a believer I do not expect to get my Halakha from Danios and only hope he does not fall into the JW trap of actually believing the biased opinion he has presented.

    Judaism, like Islam and every other religion, has tolerant and intolerant interpretations.

  • dude

    @Just Stopping By

    Ok, so Danios is involved in an “intellectual exercise” to prove that those who spew hate on Islam from other Abrahamic religious viewpoints are standing on quicksand, right?

    Then my critique remains the same, but worded another way. It is incredibly easy to demonize Judaism in the way Islamophobes demonize Islam from within the Jewish tradition without resorting to secular scholarship. If anything, by resorting to secular scholarship Danios weakens his argument by removing from it the “worldview” of the believer (again, I can only comment on Torah Judaism), and giving said believer an immediate pretense to write Danios off.

    I may be unfamiliar with JW and other such sites but it seems to me that what they use is actual Muslim sources such as Quran, Hadith, Legal codes, etc… cherry-picked and then taken out of context. This is traditionally what anti-semites have done using Tanakh, Talmud, or both depending on their perspective. JW and anti-Shariah people are aping the methods of scholarly anti-semitism by basing their critiques on a distortion of the actual Muslim texts in order to convince unlearned readers that “this is what these people really believe!” If the JW people only utilized secular academic critiques of Islam I doubt it would be quite as infuriating to Muslims or quite as effective on other people.

    In his defense, Danios did a much better job in his Halakha series which I found quite well researched considering the “intellectual exercise” he is engaged in. As a believer I do not expect to get my Halakha from Danios and only hope he does not fall into the JW trap of actually believing the biased opinion he has presented.

    Maybe not the right place to post it but for a Torah perspective on War halakha sans apologetics this is a good article

    http://www.vbm-torah.org/archive/halak66/13halak.htm

  • Just Stopping By

    @dude:

    Perhaps you did not find it clear in this one article, but what I think Danios hoped to, and did, achieve was to argue that you cannot have a double standard for judging Muslim and other texts.

    If you wish to bring in our Jewish interpretations of the phrase “hashem tziva’ot” (which is usually translated as Lord of Hosts, not Lord of Armies), then you must accept Muslim interpretations of the “tricky” parts of their religious works as well. (The “you” in that sentence is generic, not addressed to you, dude, as an individual.) Conversely, if you wish to try to look at the Qur’an in the absence of the context of Muslim explanations, then you should be willing to accept the results of someone doing the same to the Tanakh or other text.

    I agree with you that the interpretations that Danios gives are not what we normally think of in Judaism, but that is part of the point: it is unfair to strip away one religion’s interpretations of their texts unless you are willing to do that for all religions. In the broader series of articles, Danios was addressing how various Islamophobes take verses from the Qur’an out of context and read them in the worst possible light, ignoring Muslim interpretations, and showing what would happen if one did the same to texts from Judaism and Christianity. It’s not a pretty result, but I think it was an effective one.

  • dude

    @ Danios

    I am not sure how to respond to this article or what exactly it is meant to achieve.

    That said, I do not spend much time analyzing hate sites so I will defer to your expertise on how to combat them. I agree wholeheartedly that these people must not be allowed the final word on anything and on that front I commend and wish to support Loonwatch’s important work.

    The central mistake in this article stems from the fact that none of your citations came from a religious perspective on the Torah. Had you researched traditional Jewish views of The Name at the top of your list (the one which appears 6,519 times and we refer to simply as “HaShem” The Name) you would realize that according to Jewish tradition this is G-d’s name denoting His aspect of mercy (rachamim in hebrew).

    This is not to pretend that there is no violence in the Torah, but simply to correct a misleading error in this article. You make many other points which contradict basic tenets of Judaism and Biblical Hebrew, but because I am unfamiliar with both Christian theology and exactly whom you are addressing here I will leave them aside. Two supporting links:

    http://www.mechon-mamre.org/jewfaq/name.htm

    The most important of God’s Names is the four-letter Name represented by the Hebrew letters Yod-Heh-Vav-Heh (YHVH). It is often referred to as the Ineffable Name, the Unutterable Name or the Distinctive Name. Linguistically, it is related to the Hebrew root Heh-Yod-Heh (to be), and reflects the idea that God’s existence is eternal. In scripture, this Name is used when discussing God’s relation with human beings, and when emphasizing his qualities of lovingkindness and mercy.

    http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Names_of_G-d/YHVH/yhvh.html

    In the traditional Jewish view, YHVH is the name expressing the mercy and condescension of the Almighty God:

    “The Holy One, Blessed Be He, said to those, You want to know My name? I am called according to My actions. When I judge the creatures I am Elohim, and when I have mercy with My world I am YHWH” (Exodus Rabbah 3:6)

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  • le

    Allah would b El of the bible …. Yahweh would be god of this world .. aka , the devil and Jesus would be his salesman …. Google is El and Yahweh different … Also does Jesus ever say who his father is … Was Jesus Hung from a tree or a cross … Or u could assume that the Bible , Quran and the Talmud where all written by the god of this world and the most high god allowed them to be written so you could know thy enemy / drill sergeant …

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  • Danios

    @ Durandal :

    Sorry for taking so long to approve your comment and responding. I was busy with work. I kept it pending so I remember to respond to it. I have approved it.

    I asked you:

    “Can you kindly provide a single verse in the Quran that calls for its believers to carry out ethnic cleansing and genocide against another peoples?”

    In response, you provided this verse of the Quran:

    2:191 And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.
    2:192 But if they desist, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

    You having to cite these verses proves exactly what I was saying. Notice the bolded parts above, which indicate that “fight those who fight you” and “but if they desist, then you desist.”

    I am not looking for you to quote verses of the Quran that fighting in self-defense is OK–but thank you for providing that. What I am looking for is a verse that explicitly says to kill women, children, and babies, like these verses of the Bible:

    Numbers 31:17 Kill all the boys[,] and kill every woman

    Deut 3:6 We completely destroyed them, as we had done with Sihon king of Heshbon, destroying every city—men, women and children.

    Which is in accordance to:

    20:16 In the cities of the nations the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance, do not leave alive anything that breathes.

    31:17 Now kill all the boys. And kill every woman who has slept with a man

    Joshua6:21 They devoted the city to the Lord and utterly destroyed with the sword every living thing in it—men and women, young and old, cattle, sheep and donkeys.

    8:25 Twelve thousand men and women were put to death that day—all the people of Ai.

    10:30 The city [of Libnah] and everyone in it Joshua put to the sword. He left no survivors there.

    10:32 The Lord handed Lachish over to Israel, and Joshua took it on the second day. The city and everyone in it he put to the sword, just as he had done to Libnah.

    10:35 They captured [Eglon] that same day and put it to the sword and totally destroyed everyone in it, just as they had done to Lachish.

    10:37 They took the city and put it to the sword, together with its king, its villages and everyone in it. They left no survivors. Just as at Eglon, they totally destroyed it and everyone in it.

    10:39 They took the city, its king and its villages, and put them to the sword. Everyone in it they totally destroyed. They left no survivors.

    All of this done as God commanded:

    10:40 So Joshua subdued the whole region, including the hill country, the Negev, the western foothills and the mountain slopes, together with all their kings. He left no survivors. He totally destroyed all who breathed, just as the Lord, the God of Israel, had commanded.

    11:11 The Israelites completely destroyed every living thing in the city, leaving no survivors. Not a single person was spared. And then Joshua burned the city.

    11:12 Joshua slaughtered all the other kings and their people, completely destroying them, just as Moses, the servant of the LORD, had commanded.

    11:14 And the Israelites took all the plunder and livestock of the ravaged towns for themselves. But they killed all the people, leaving no survivors.

    11:21 During this period Joshua destroyed all the Anakites…He killed them all and completely destroyed their towns.

    I could go on and on….But the point is that the verses in the Bible explicitly sanction the shedding of blood of women, children, and babies. Can you find such in the Quran?

    You can’t and that’s why you rely on a verse in the Quran that actually supports war in self-defense only.

    Also, is this the magnificent response you came up with and were crying over the fact that I didn’t approve it immediately? Bravo.

  • http://www.twitter.com/progressivepost Durandal

    Well, since I guess it will never be approved, here’s my response:

    “Can you kindly provide a single verse in the Quran that calls for its believers to carry out ethnic cleansing and genocide against another peoples?”

    Skeptics Annotated Koran: Cruelty

    “As I said, the most substantive difference between the Quran and the Bible is that the latter has no concept of distinction or protection of civilians.”

    2:191 And slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter. And fight not with them at the Inviolable Place of Worship until they first attack you there, but if they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers.
    2:192 But if they desist, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.

    Those that “persecute” Muslims? Soldiers and civilians? In warfare and in acts of terrorism?
    But whomever it is that Allah wants you to kill, you’re supposed to stop killing them if they stop doing whatever it was (fighting with you, persecuting Islam, being disbelievers?) that you were busy killing them for. Allah is Forgiving, Merciful, Confusing.

    “Slay them wherever ye find them, and drive them out of the places whence they drove you out, for persecution is worse than slaughter … If they attack you (there) then slay them. Such is the reward of disbelievers. But if they desist, then lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”

    There’s several problems with this by the way, since Muslims hold the Bible in holy esteem and believe the stories in it actually happened, even believing Muhammad is predicted in the Bible, so if you’re trying to say in the Islamic beliefs such things never happened and were certainly not ordained by God is ridiculous.

    Also this article seems to try to say “Allah” is not a warrior God while “Yahweh” is. Um, not so according to the Koran:

    Dwindling in Unbelief: Surah 2:190-217 — Allah’s Rules for Holy Warfare

  • http://www.twitter.com/progressivepost Durandal

    I’m just wondering when my response to your post will be approved, if ever.

  • Danios

    @ Durandal:

    Can you kindly provide a single verse in the Quran that calls for its believers to carry out ethnic cleansing and genocide against another peoples? Is there a single verse in the Quran, like there is in the Bible, which says to kill women, children, and babies? As I said, the most substantive difference between the Quran and the Bible is that the latter has no concept of distinction or protection of civilians. In fact, in places the Bible orders the killing of women, children, and babies–every living thing. Can you show the same in the Quran? Can you? I challenge you to do so. Or will you now slink away or avoid the question by changing the topic and refusing to answer the challenge?

  • http://www.twitter.com/ProgressivePost Durandal

    Isn’t it a little ironic you try to make the Koran out as this lovely nice book and then bash the Bible for being violent?

    http://dwindlinginunbelief.blogspot.com/2006/06/which-is-more-violent-bible-or-quran.html

    I’m always amused when people from one violent dumb religion bash on anothers.

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