War, Violence, the Hebrew Bible & the Aeneid
War and warfare can serve different purposes. Both the Roman Empire during the Golden Age, under the auspices of Rome’s first emperor, Caesar Augustus and the Israel’s who followed the Hebrew Bible engaged warfare. However, the wars had a different focuses and different goals. The wars of the Old Testament were wars of extermination, while the Romans had limited wars. Wars of extermination occurred during Israel’s theocracy, and are often cited by non-believers as a reason to reject following a religion. However, the wars of extermination were specific to the period when Israel was a theocracy. Israel, we learn from the Hebrew Bible, followed a unique form of government in which God himself is recognized as the supreme civil ruler, and His laws are taken as the statute book of the kingdom. Israel’s theocracy existed from the period of Moses, Joshua, and the twelve judges, as the appointees and agents of Jehovah. The books of the Hebrew Bible serve not only for religious teachings, but also for historical accounts. Similarly the epic poem writer Virgil had a purpose to write a myth of Rome’s origins that would emphasize the grandeur and legitimize the success of an empire that had conquered most of the known world. Virgil works backward, connecting the political and social situation of his own day with the inherited tradition of the Greek gods and heroes, to show the former as historically derived from the latter. Order and good government triumph emphatically over the Italian peoples, whose world prior to the Trojans’ arrival is characterized as a primitive existence of war, chaos, and emotional irrationality. By contrast, the empire under Augustus was generally a world of peace, order, and emotional stability. Virgil himself would appear to advocate for a more stoic Roman state in terms of conquest and violence in general. Specifically, that Rome was an Empire not driven by blood lust but rather by invasions waged on the principles that Rome can bring about justice, law, and stability. The warfare they used was to “pacify” and “battle down” the conquered.
The wars of extermination were specific to the enemies Israel faced. Typically, such a war required that Israel’s soldiers put to the sword not only all the able-bodied men under arms, but also all the civilian men, both young and old, including the elders. Sometimes the women and children, and even at times all the farm and domesticated animals, the crops and material possessions, and even the city itself of the enemy were exterminated. A perfect example of this is when God commanded the annihilation of the Canaanites (Deut 7:1-2). Another famous war of this type is the one recounted in the destruction of Jericho. “...And they utterly destroyed everything in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and donkey, with the edge of the sword. And they burned the city with fire, and all that was in it. Only the silver and gold and articles of bronze and iron, they put into the treasury of the house of the Lord. Then Joshua made them take an oath at that time, saying cursed before the Lord is the man who rises up and builds this city Jericho; with the loss of his first-born he shall lay its foundation, and with the loss of his youngest son he shall set up its gates. So the Lord was with Joshua, and his fame was in all the land” (Joshua 6:20-27). However, the Hebrew Bible speaks the message to never to retaliate, nor repay evil with evil, for vengeance belongs to God (Deuteronomy 32:35). In our understanding of how warfare and violence are dealt with in the Aeneid, its best to understand the values and principles of Rome at the time it was written. From this it is important to notice how Aeneas’ furor is demonstrated throughout the epic and how his quest becomes one of character reformation. He shifts from a Homeric individualist ruled by his passion, to a self sacrificing hero, who...
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