Conquest Narratives in Christianity and Islam

I’ve guest posted again for Political Theology Today, discussing Pope Francis’ recent claim that Christianity shares in common with Islam an emphasis upon the theme of conquest and his referencing of the Great Commission of Matthew 28 as an example of this. Focusing on Matthew, I argue that the pope’s claim has strong support in the text itself and that recognition of this fact should encourage a greater degree of caution in Christian polemics against Islam’s use of this theme.

As Peter Leithart has observed, the sending out of the Twelve is presented as a ‘quasi-military operation’. They are sheep in the midst of wolves (10:16), whose mission will herald the advent of bitter conflict (10:21), carrying out a campaign that will take them from city to city within the land (10:23). Like Moses commanded Joshua (Deuteronomy 31:7-8), Jesus instructs the Twelve not to be afraid (Matthew 10:26, 31), assuring them that he will confess their names before his Father.

In Matthew 10:34, Jesus declares: ‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.’ The presence of this statement in its context is suggestive. Simon Gathercole observes the ‘intriguing possibility’ that this intentionally echoes the ‘I have come’ statements of the sword-bearing Angel of the Lord, perhaps most notably in Joshua 5:13-15, when the commander of the army of the Lord met with Joshua immediately before the conquest of the land.

Taken with the immediately preceding verses, where Jesus casts himself as the heavenly advocate, the ‘I have come’ sayings of Matthew 10:34-35, with their potential allusion to the figure of Joshua 5, hints at an angelomorphic Christology, in which Jesus is identified with the Angel of the Lord. A possible identification of the pre-existent Christ with this figure, who overcame the Egyptians and led the conquest of Canaan, is found elsewhere in the New Testament (e.g. Jude 5; 1 Corinthians 10:4). Such a connection would be especially noteworthy: Jesus’ and Joshua’s conquests are not merely paralleled, but bound together by the fact that Christ initiates both of them.

Read the whole piece here.



About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in 2 Kings, Apologetics, Bible, Controversies, Guest Post, In the News, Joshua, Matthew, NT, NT Theology, OT, OT Theology, Politics, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Conquest Narratives in Christianity and Islam

  1. mnpetersen37 says:

    Hopefully I’ll have time to read this tomorrow, but for now: Schmitt claims that Vitoria justified the conquest of the New World through an appeal to the Great Commission. (Reflecting on this should also give us pause in criticizing Islam.)

    Checking quickly to see if you mentioned this, I noticed that, at least according to the sidebar on the blog, you’re a much “hotter topic” in political theology than either Schmitt or Agamben. 😛

    • I didn’t get into any of the history. I fairly ruthlessly limited myself to the gospel of Matthew and to the question of whether Christianity has a conquest narrative as a key element.

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