1. Feedback on Take Heart!
2. New CVA Web Site Features
3. Christianity and Violence: The Nature of Prophets
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3. Christianity and Violence
The Nature of Prophets
[This series reflects my views and not "official" CVA positions. It
is being archived at
From the perspective of Girardian theory, prophecy involves exposing
the scandal of “sacred,” scapegoating violence. Prophets reveal what has
been hidden since the foundation of the world – that communal
cohesiveness has been bought with the blood of innocent victims.
Scapegoating generates camaraderie, while the social order, grounded in
violence and injustice, maintains peace. The prophet exposes as a lie
the “peace” and “harmony” derived from scapegoating violence, and this
is why Jesus had a prophetic voice when he said, “You are of your father
the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a
murderer from the beginning, and has nothing to do with the truth,
because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks according to
his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44).
Prophets have witnessed or personally experienced scapegoating. This,
I think, is why the Hebrew prophets typically had humble origins – if
they had always enjoyed privilege, they would have been less inclined to
empathize with victims. Prophets recognize injustice and, if possible,
they denounce it. However, they do so at great peril, because people
intuitively understand that scapegoating helps maintain peace and order.
At some level of consciousness, people grasp Caiaphas’ logic that “it is
expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the
whole nation should not perish” (John 11:50). Scapegoating is economical
in that it generally requires few victims to prevent widespread
outbreaks of violence; it is abhorrent because it is unjust.
Jesus provided considerable insight into the nature of prophecy when
he told the Pharisees and lawyers, “Woe to you! for you build the tombs
of the prophets whom your fathers killed. So you are witnesses and
consent to the deeds of your fathers; for they killed them, and you
build their tombs.
Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send
them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’
that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the
world, may be required of this generation, from the blood of Abel to the
blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary”
(Luke 11:47-51). Building tombs in primal religions has always been a
way of blinding communities to the original murder by glorifying (or
even deifying) the scapegoating victim.1
The prophets condemned killing
innocent victims and many prophets, and for articulating that message,
many were killed themselves.2
However, Jesus denounced the Pharisees and
lawyers for building tombs and celebrating the prophets’ greatness,
which permitted the lawyers and Pharisees to ignore the prophets’
actual, challenging message.
A person becomes a prophet by virtue of being a victim. Consequently,
Jesus described Abel as a prophet, even though Abel neither had a
prophetic voice nor was he even Jewish. When Jesus said that the blood
of all the prophets was required of this generation, I think Gil Bailie
makes a good point that Jesus was not blaming his audience for all the
murders of all time. Rather, “generation” refers to the generation of
the mob – the process by which people have always coalesced into
communities by their collective violence against the scapegoating victim
“from the foundation of the world.”3
I offer a different interpretation. I think that the mindset of “this
generation” was the same as that of every other generation, and
therefore all generations have been equally guilty of all the murders.
Each generation can condemn the murders of its ancestors, but it is
unwilling to confront its own scapegoating. Therefore many people have
been angered when animal advocates have made parallels between
contemporary treatment of animals and past human slavery4 or the
While animal advocates often make clear that they are
showing parallels between the mindset of those who have victimized
humans and those who currently victimize animals, critics seem to ignore
this point. Instead, critics often incorrectly accuse animal advocates
of equating humans and animals.
1. Bailie, Gil. The Gospel of Luke [audiotape series]. Glen Ellen,
CA: The Cornerstone Forum, undated.
2. Though prophecy carries substantial risks, not all prophets have
been killed. Jesus was likely being hyperbolic here, but his basic point
3. Bailie, op. cit. note 3.
4. Spiegel, Marjorie. The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal
Slavery. New York: Mirror Books, 1988.
5. Patterson, Charles. Eternal Treblinka: Our Treatment of Animals
and the Holocaust. New York: Lantern Books, 2002.
Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.