Following Biden’s colossal failure in Afghanistan, America has been warned to prepare for Jihad. While translating from Arabic literally to “strive” or “struggle” in English, modern scholars seem to agree that jihad has two meanings: an inner spiritual struggle or the “greater jihad,” and an outer physical struggle against the enemies of Islam or the “lesser jihad.”[i] In the context of the Qur’an, it plays out in both realms, but is depicted primarily as a military effort. According to Middle East historian Bernard Lewis, “In the Quran and still more in the Traditions commonly though not invariably followed by the words ‘in the path of God,’ it has usually been understood as meaning ‘to wage war.’”[ii] Lewis qualified this was not his own idea but rather that “the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists,” and Hadith scholars “understood the obligation of jihad in a military sense.”[iii] In other words, the majority believed jihad usually entailed the military struggle to spread Islam, just as Muhammad did in his day.
The idea of “divine license” in warfare is extremely dangerous, but giving a teenage social media IS recruits a new Humvee and a MI6A4 is to summon demons. The French scholar Laurent Murawiec, a former RAND defense analyst, explained the jihadi as “elite amoral supermen” in his salient The Mind of Jihad.
The conviction that one knows God’s will is heady stuff that often leads to shedding torrents of blood in the name of one’s mission. Living in a “second reality” deemed superior to the “real” reality shared by the rest of mankind is a recipe for mass murder.[iv]
With such a jihadi mindset as ground zero, the twenty-first century Mahdist is able to summon more adrenalin behind his millenarian apocalypticism. Graeme Wood, a journalist heralded for his Atlantic essay, “What ISIS Really Wants,” explains the IS’s allure is in its Mahdism.
They believe they are personally involved in struggles beyond their own lives, and that merely to be swept up in the drama, on the side of righteousness, is a privilege and a pleasure—especially when it is also a burden.… That ISIS holds the imminent fulfillment of prophecy as a matter of dogma at least tells us the mettle of our opponent. It is ready to cheer its own near-obliteration, and to remain confident, even when surrounded, that it will receive divine succor if it stays true to the Prophetic model.[v]
Before arguing that Mahdism eclipses the jihadi ideology of hate groups like Hamas, we are compelled to concede that as “a means to an end,” all radical jihadism is properly labeled a death cult. Murawiec observed this generalized veneration of death amongst Islamic radicals.
The slaying is not instrumental: it is an act in itself; it is human sacriﬁce. The blood of the enemy renews the identity of the lynch mob: To be a Palestinian is to spill the blood of Israelis. Death is not an instrumentality—like the death of the enemy on the battleﬁeld—it has become an end in itself. How else may we fathom the signs on the walls of Hamas kindergarten in Gaza, “The Children Are the Holy Martyrs of Tomorrow” Death is a source of unalloyed joy: “We love death.”[vi]
While the above statement is horrific, it comes from Hamas—a terrorist group formed to “liberate Palestine” from alleged Jewish “occupation” and to establish an Islamic state in modern-day Israel, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip. Hamas members are terrorists, but not necessarily mujahideen. The term was originally used for the US-backed Taliban soldiers who defeated the communist government of Afghanistan during the Afghan War (1979–92), but has been subsequently used more freely to refer to any Muslim groups engaged in militant jihad with non-Muslims. However, the lack of precision in terminology allows for too much equivocation in Western threat analysis. In this case, ignorance doesn’t merely lead to embarrassment; it literally can get you killed.
The similarities between jihadists like Hamas and the Taliban mujahideen who fought the Soviets are superficial at best. In contrast, Hamas routinely utilizes pusillanimous strategies like firing rockets at Israeli soldiers from UN-sponsored “safe zones” (like school playgrounds) with the purpose of later accusing Israel of war crimes, that is, if Israel responds to protect their own citizens. For example, in what has been labeled the “al-Fakhura school incident,” rockets flew into Israel from Gaza in 2009 and several eyewitnesses in Gaza saw “terrorists firing mortar rounds from a street close to the school.”[vii] The IDF responded, resulting in civilian casualties, and it took a lot of heat in the press internationally for shooting at a school. A spokesperson for the IDF stated, “The initial examination conducted with forces operating in the area shows that mortar shells were fired from within the school at IDF forces.”[viii] Muslims need to take ownership of events like this; it was Hamas rather than the IDF who endangered the school. Hamas uses women and children as human shields, and because of such tactics, they are not by any means to be confused with actual soldiers.
ISIS-K members are far more dangerous than a mujahedeen death cult like Al-Qaeda, because they are true Mahdists—an apocalyptic death cult. The transformation from militant-jihadist to Mahdist occurred when the IS declared themselves to be the new worldwide caliphate of Islam. The significance of such a move is not sufficiently understood by most folks, because it is rooted in medieval history. Historically, the caliph was the political and religious successor to the prophet Muhammad and the leader of the entire Muslim community. According to Muslim prophecy in the Hadith, there are five stages of world history. The fifth (and final) stage begins with the return of the caliphate responsible for ushering in the Mahdi—the final successor of the prophet Muhammad and leader of the entire Muslim world. The IS claims to be that very one.
Jihad is often translated as “holy war,” but Muslims never apply “holy” to anything other than Allah.[ix] Even so, it is fair to say the IS and most all Muslim fundamentalists operate under a Crusade war ethic, and Mahdism adds more fuel to that already raging fire.
Crusade as a War Ethic
Crusade, as a theory of war, treats mortal combat as the only truly effective means for destroying persistent evil and imposing ultimate good. Seen as morally unconditional, within the Crusade ethos, the ends do justify the means. The purpose of war is to destroy evil and impose a perceived “ideal” social order by force. Led by an individual like the leader of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Roman Pontiff, or a Muslim caliph, “Crusade” as an ethical system treats war as a religious matter involving divine (not human) authority. It is in the truest sense a “holy war.” That’s why the world cringed at the language used by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church’s Public Affairs Department, Vsevolod Chaplin, when he said, “The fight with terrorism is a holy battle and today our country is perhaps the most active force in the world fighting it” (emphasis added)[x] We realize that not everyone has studied ethics as an academic discipline. If the “holy battle” quote doesn’t disturb you yet, it’s about to make you squirm.
Concerning the crusade ethical system, Heimbach noted its feigned amorality is allegedly justified by divine transcendence.
Because war is fought for the sake of that which defines the ultimate meaning of good and evil, crusade has no place for restraining actions taken against enemies. The conduct of war functions above civil law and otherwise applicable norms of morality because it is waged for the sake of that which defines right and wrong on a cosmic scale and is the source of all valid law and morality. Of necessity, therefore, wars of crusade are fought as “total war.” The struggle is “all out,” with “no holds barred;” and “no quarter given.”[xi]
Perhaps that explains the IS’ hanging the unborn babies of Christian mothers from trees? Probably not… Such an atrocity is internally coherent with Muhammad’s war ethic, but completely dependent on one external factor. Is the call to “holy war” actually holy? Is the total war commanded by the transcendent creator of the universe, a man-made contrivance, or the Prince of Darkness? We are not arrogant enough to think we’ve solved the puzzle or unraveled all of Satan’s tricks. The motives for such wars may also overlap in unanticipated combinations, for reasons we are not capable of imagining, at least not yet (1 Corinthians 15:52, 1 John 3:2). Considering the brutality of the IS, we agree with Clinton Arnold, a New Testament scholar and Dean at the Talbot School of Theology, who observed, “Purely naturalistic explanations are not adequate for describing many forms of evil in the world.”[xii] Using sex slaves and gratuitous, slasher-style violence as recruiting tools, the IS is certainly demonically inspired.[xiii]
According to Crusade War theory, good can never find middle ground with evil, which explains why, no matter how well intended Secretary of State John Kerry might be concerning the “two-state solution” in Palestine, it is doomed to fail. Since Crusade requires “total war,” there is no place for surrender. Because they all employ a true Crusade theory of war, the real crusaders in the Middle East today are the Muslim jihadists. To put it in terms of biblical theology, the IS believes it has the same sort of mandate God gave Joshua when the Israelites first crossed the Jordan to eliminate the Nephilim and Canaanite hordes. Now think about the Israelites walking around Jericho blowing shofars (it’s not considered a practical strategy at West Point).
The Crusade War Ethic in the Hebrew Bible
Christians must concede Yahweh’s war ethic toward the Canaanites represents a textbook Crusade theory of war. However, in Scripture, “It has to come through a prophet. It is not a democratic thing where the nation can get together and take a vote and agree that we are going to battle or any tribe can decide or majority of tribes.”[xiv] In the ancient world, war was necessarily more brutal, man-to man-type combat requiring athletic speed and well developed skills with various bows, spears, and swords rather than GPS-guided drones controlled from a distance. We believe the IS will be quickly overwhelmed by a technologically superior army like the United States. Of course, such an assault by Western “crusaders” is exactly what the Mahdists want.
A common way of parsing a Crusade in the Torah is “devote to destruction,” as explained in a standard modern lexicon:
charam (355c); a prim. root; to ban, devote, exterminate:—annihilate(1), covet(1), destroy them utterly(1), destroy utterly(1), destroyed them utterly(1), destroying(1), destroying them completely(2), destruction(2), devote(2), forfeited(1), set apart(1), sets apart(1), utterly destroy(11), utterly destroyed(22), utterly destroying(3).[xv]
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament explains why the translation “devoted to destruction” is probably the most accurate English rendering:
The idea first appears in Num 21:2–3, where the Israelites vowed that, if God would enable them to defeat a southern Canaanite king, they would “utterly destroy” (i.e. consider as devoted and accordingly utterly destroy) his cities. This word is used regarding almost all the cities which Joshua’s troops destroyed (e.g. Jericho, Josh 6:21; Ai, Josh 8:26; Makkedah, Josh 10:28; Hazor, Josh 11:11), thus indicating the rationale for their destruction. In Deut 7:2–6, the command for this manner of destruction is given, with the explanation following that, otherwise, these cities would lure the Israelites away from the Lord (cf. Deut 20:17–18). Any Israelite city that harbored idolators was to be “utterly destroyed” (Deut 13:12–15; cf. Ex 22:19).[xvi]
The key distinction that justifies Israelite Crusade versus something like the Muslim jihad against Jews and Christians is that the Hebrew Bible is a true revelation from God. If Yahweh is really God, then His command is justified by who He is: the Great I AM. Alternately, if Allah is God, then Muhammad’s medieval war crimes are justified by Allah’s authority. The question is ironically the same one that Joshua, one of the spies, faced when commanded to slay the giant clans who had every physical advantage.
And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. (Joshua 24:15)
Indeed, Jews, Christians, and Muslims have both adopted the same Crusade War ethic, but the only legitimate claimant belongs to Joshua and the Israelites born to parents who wandered the Sinai desert for thirty-eight years for fear of the Nephilim (Numbers 13:31). As we have discussed more rigorously in Petrus Romanus: The Final Pope Is Here, the papal Crusades were based on unbiblical theology involving purgatory, pilgrimage, and the false promise of indulgences. These were wars commanded by popes, not God, and we cannot call them “holy.” The same line of reasoning applies to Muslim jihad.
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Allah is either a concocted idol by Muhammad and his followers, or perhaps the revelation of an immortal Paul identified in the Ephesian epistle (6:12) as an archon, a Greek term for “a supernatural power having some particular role in controlling the destiny and activities of human beings.”[xvii] If so, Muhammad and his followers justify jihad with the Crusade ethic for personal or preternatural reasons, and neither is holy. A Sharia law manual defines jihad simply as “war against non-Muslims.”[xviii] Yahweh’s Crusade is actually His, for the benefit of the Israelites, not for their own desires, as Muhammad and the popes commanded.
If the biblical presentation of this subject were couched in language implying that such “devotion” was practiced because the Israelites only thought the Lord wanted it (but God nowhere asked them to do it), the idea would still be disturbing. But it is stated several times explicitly that Joshua acted “as the Lord God of Israel commanded” or “as Moses the servant of the Lord had commanded” (10:40; 11:12; cf. Deut. 7:24).[xix]
Holy war presented in the Old Testament is especially brutal. However, we are arguing a somewhat different case than the standard apologetic. The war ethic against the Canaanite giant clans in the Promised Land seems “inhuman” because it actually was. In fact, it is never even hinted at that it was a human strategy. If your worldview allows the existence of Yahweh, the angel of the Lord, angels, fallen angels, demons, evil spirits, ghosts, seraphim, cherubim, Nephilim, sorcerers, mediums, diviners, seers, astrologers, and ‘little-g’ gods, then it is probably consistent with the worldview of the inspired biblical authors. If these are novel and strange subjects, then, as a result, you can read and even memorize an English translation and miss the author’s point entirely, and, possibly, even come to the opposite conclusion.
When Jesus told His twelve disciples, “But these things have I told you, that when the time shall come, ye may remember that I told you of them. And these things I said not unto you at the beginning, because I was with you,” (John 16:4) it reads like Jesus is preparing them for the divine inspiration that will lead to composing the New Testament. He speaks of the Third Person of the Trinity: “Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come” (John 16:13). Jesus is assuring the disciples that the “Spirit of truth” will assist them in getting the Gospels and epistles into the New Testament canon. Jesus was speaking to His apostles on what He intended for them (the twelve) to do after He left. The idea that the Holy Spirit would bestow the hard-earned expertise required to interpret ancient Near-Eastern texts upon uneducated minds remains a common but vacuous interpretation of this passage. We have to be informed to understand the context.
The Holy Spirit convicts us that we need the expertise of other believers, but in this case, Christians who understand ancient Near-East languages, including idioms, figures of speech, slang, grammar, and apocalyptic symbolism. Recently discovered tablets of clay have taught us much about the ancient context of the Bible. We ask, “How many readers know that Baal the Canaanite god was called the ‘cloud rider’ and how that deepens the meaning of the biblical text?”[xx]
Yahweh chose ancient prophets like Isaiah, who possessed the background knowledge along with a literary penchant for sarcasm, to tease the Canaanite gods. A great deal of humor and biblical theology in the Old Testament is simply lost in the three-thousand-year-old cultural divide, but the recovery of Ugaritic literature has deepened the context of Scripture.
Archaeology (a relatively recent academic endeavor) and the resulting decipherment of previously unknown ancient languages (like Ugaritic) over the last century or so have proven to be helpful in deciphering the Hebrew Bible in its original Sinai context. The problem is that only the nerds who can read Ugaritic are aware of what is affected, but Christians are super-critical of new ideas (often rightfully so). All the more, Christian teachers and theologians have an intellectual duty to keep up with new data and how it informs the Bible’s context and offers nuances or even challenges long-held assumptions.
Within the conservative Christian community, many top of the top biblical scholars are afraid to even talk about some issues, because they also want to keep their jobs. One of the best conservative Old Testament scholars, Bruce Waltke, resigned from a teaching position at Reformed Theological Seminary for the crime of publicly recognizing that there are legitimate readings of Genesis that call young-earth creationism into serious question.[xxi] Interestingly, some of the same folks who criticize scholars like Waltke also attempt to demythologize the Nephilim out of the Bible, but at great cost.
A proper understanding of Genesis 6 clarifies why such total destruction was prescribed. With this in mind, we now revisit Yahweh’s commands to Joshua: “Now therefore kill every male among the little ones, and kill every woman that hath known man by lying with him” (Numbers 31:17). It seems fair to label this as an “ethnic cleansing” and connect it to Genesis 6.
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[i] Diane Morgan, Essential Islam: A Comprehensive Guide to Belief and Practice, (ABC-CLIO 2010), p. 87.
[ii] Bernard Lewis, The Political Language of Islam (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1988), p. 72.
[iv]Laruent Murawiec, The Mind of Jihad (Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 2008), 2–3.
[v] Wood, “What ISIS Really Wants.”
[vi] Murawiec, Mind of Jihad, 12.
[vii]Aakov Katz, “Witness Hamas Fired from School,” Jerusalem Post, January 6, 2009, http://www.jpost.com/Israel/Witnesses-Hamas-fired-from-school, accessed November 27, 2015.
[viii] Amira Hass, Amos Harel, Avi Issacharoff, Akiva Eldar, The Associated Press and Anshel Pfeffer, “UN Rejects IDF Claim Gaza Militants Operated from Bombed-out School,” Haaretz, July 1, 2009, http://www.haaretz.com/news/un-rejects-idf-claim-gaza-militants-operated-from-bombed-out-school-1.267630.
[ix] Lloyd Steffen, Holy War, Just War: Exploring the Moral Meaning of Religious Violence, ( Rowman& Littlefield, 2007), p. 221.
[x] MOSCOW (AFP), “Church Says Russia Fighting ‘Holy Battle’ in Syria,” France 24, September 30, 2015, http://www.france24.com/en/20150930-church-says-russia-fighting-holy-battle-syria, accessed October 7, 2015.
[xi] Daniel R. Heimbach, Lecture 35 Crusade, ETH 5100, Introduction to Christian Ethics, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
[xii] Clinton E. Arnold, “Can We Still Believe in Demons Today?,” in The Apologetics Study Bible: Real Questions, Straight Answers, Stronger Faith, ed. Ted Cabal et al. (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007), p. 1475.
[xiii] Aki Peritz, Tara Maller, “The Islamic State of Sexual Violence,” Foreign Policy, September 16, 2014, http://foreignpolicy.com/2014/09/16/the-islamic-state-of-sexual-violence/ ,accessed November 4, 2015.
[xiv] Douglas Stuart, “What Were the Characteristics of Holy War in the Old Testament?” Biblical Training.org, June 19, 2012, https://www.biblicaltraining.org/blog/curious-christian/6-19-2012/what-were-characteristics-holy-war-old-testament, accessed October 10, 2015.
[xv] 276 charam in New American Standard Hebrew-Aramaic and Greek Dictionaries: Updated Edition, edited by Robert L. Thomas (Anaheim, CA: Foundation Publications, Inc., 1998).
[xvi] Leon J. Wood, “744 חָרַם,charam” Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, ed. R. Laird Harris, Gleason L. Archer Jr., and Bruce K. Waltke (Chicago: Moody Press, 1999), p. 324.
[xvii] Johannes P. Louw and Eugene Albert Nida, Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament: Based on Semantic Domains (New York: United Bible Societies, 1996), p. 146–147.
[xviii] Ahmed ibn Naqib al-Misri, Reliance of the Traveller: A Classic Manual of Islamic Sacred Law, trans. Nuh Ha Mim Keller (Amana Publications, 1999), p. 99.
[xix]La Sor, W. S., Hubbard, D. A., & Bush, F. W. (1996), Old Testament Survey: The Message, Form, and Background of the Old Testament (2nd ed.) (147) (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company).
[xxi] “OT Scholar Bruce Waltke Resigns Following Evolution Comments,” http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2010/april/ot-scholar-bruce-waltke-resigns-following-evolution.html.