The Bible and Moral Injury: Reading Scripture Alongside War's Unseen Wounds

The Bible and Moral Injury: Reading Scripture Alongside War's Unseen Wounds

by Brad E. Kelle


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The Bible and Moral Injury offers an exploration (with case studies) of the interpretation of biblical texts, especially war-related narratives and ritual descriptions from the Old Testament, in conversation with research on the emerging notion of moral injury within psychology, military studies, philosophy, and ethics. This book explores two questions simultaneously:

  1. What happens when we read biblical texts, especially biblical stories of war and violence, in light of emerging research on moral injury?, and
  2. What does the study of biblical texts and their interpretation contribute to the emerging work on moral injury among other fields and with veterans, chaplains, and other practitioners?

The book begins by explaining the concept of moral injury as it has developed within psychology, military studies, chaplaincy, and moral philosophy, especially through work with veterans of the U.S. military’s wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. A major part of this work has been the attempt to identify means of healing, recovery, and repair for those morally injured by their experiences in combat or in similar situations.

A key element for the book is that one feature of work on moral injury has been the appeal by psychologists and others to ancient texts and cultures for models of both the articulation of moral injury and possible means of prevention and healing. These appeals have, at times, referenced Old Testament texts that describe war-related rituals, practices, and experiences (e.g., Numbers 31). Additionally, work on moral injury within other fields has used ancient texts in another way—namely, as a means to offer creative re-readings of ancient literary characters as exemplars of warriors and experiences related to moral injury. For example, scholars have re-read the tales of Achilles and Odysseus in The Iliad and The Odyssey in dialogue with the experiences of American veterans of the Vietnam war and the moral struggles of combat and homecoming.

Alongside these trends, consideration of moral injury has increasingly made its way into works on pastoral theology, Christian chaplaincy, and moral theology and ethics. These initial interpretive moves suggest a need for an extended and full-orbed examination of the interpretation of biblical texts in dialogue with the emerging formulation and practices of moral injury and recovery. This book will not simply be an effort to interpret various biblical texts through the lens of moral injury. It also seeks to explore and suggest what critical interpretation of the biblical texts can contribute to the work on moral injury going on not only among chaplains and pastoral theologians but also among psychologists, veterans’ psychiatrists, and moral philosophers.

In the end, The Bible and Moral Injury suggests that current formulations of moral injury provide a helpful lens for re-reading the Bible’s texts related to war and violence but also that biblical texts and their interpretation offer resources for those working to understand and express the realities of moral injury and its possible means of healing and repair.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781501876288
Publisher: Abingdon Press
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Pages: 264
Sales rank: 380,160
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Brad E. Kelle is Professor of Old Testament and Hebrew, School of Theology and Christian Ministry, Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego, California. He has served as the chair of the SBL’s Warfare in Ancient Israel Consultation at the Annual Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. He is also the past president and current member at large (executive board) of the Society of Biblical Literature Pacific Coast Region. He is the Old Testament editor for Currents in Biblical Research and has written or edited a variety of works on the Old Testament and ancient Israel.

Table of Contents

Foreword Rita Nakashima Brock xi

Preface and Acknowledgments xiii

1 Introduction 1

Unseen Wounds, Moral Injury, and Scripture 1

Starting Points 4

The Bible and Moral Injury: A Two-Way Conversation 8

Moral Injury as a Frame of Reference

Biblical Interpretation's Contributions to Moral Injury Work

Overview 16

2 Moral Injury and Biblical Interpretation 19

Understanding Moral Injury (Definitions, Symptoms, and Healing) 20

Definitions Causes and Effects

A Theological Conception of Moral Injury

Healing and Repair

Moral Injury and Biblical Texts: Past Work and Present Trajectories 36

Past and Present Engagements

Trajectories for Moving Forward

3 Moral Injury and the Case of King Saul (1 Samuel 9-31) 43

Background: Ancient Texts, Literary Characters, and Moral Injury 45

King Saul, the Morally Wounded Warrior 47

The Experiences of Moral Injury

The Consequences of Moral Injury

Moral Injury Connections 63

4 Moral Injury and the Bibles Postwar Rituals 69

Background: Postwar Rituals, Symbolic Practices, and Moral Injury 71

Postwar Rituals of Return and Reintegration in the Old Testament and Its Context 75

Return and Reintegration in the Old Testament

Purification of Warriors, Captives, and Objects

Appropriation of Booty

Construction of Memorials and Monuments

Return and Reintegration Outside the Old Testament


Moral Injury Connections 90

Conclusion 96

5 Moral Injury, Lament, and Forgiveness 99

Postwar Rituals of Celebration and Procession in the Old Testament and Its Context 101

Moral Injury, the Needs of Soldiers, and the Practices of Lament 104

Old Testament Lament 110

Moral Injury Connections 129




6 Injured by the Bible: Do the Biblical Warfare Texts Morally Injure Their Readers? 139

A Perennial Problem: Divine and Human Violence in the Bible 141

Approaches to Biblical War and Violence 147

Moral Injury and the Biblical Warfare Texts 152

Moral Repair and the Biblical Warfare Texts 163

Conclusion 166

7 Retrospect and Prospect 169

Contributions of Biblical Studies to Moral Injury 169

Pathways for Future Work 174

Appendix: Current Definitions of Moral Injury 183

Notes 187

Select Bibliography 237

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