I am taking part in several challenges this month and today they have come together because of a television program I viewed. The program “Expedition Unknown” is currently discussing new findings regarding the archaeological discoveries known as the Dead Sea Scrolls. The 14,000 fragments of cloth tell the story of a deity and the followers of such. Known today simply as God, belief in this deity led the charge for monotheism, the one deity referenced by the three Abrahamic faiths as “Elohim Shophtim Ba-arets”. The name means “the God who judges in (on) the Earth.
I am not particularly fond of this name and the reason for my displeasure is not really the name but rather the context in which it is used. You see, it appears in the Book of Psalms and references faith in the deity judging one’s enemies. Because one is considered faithful, it is assumed that one’s enemies are not and will be judged and punished accordingly. I should note that some of those fragments that comprise the scrolls contain the earliest writings of the Psalms, and other writings that comprise the Bible such as the book of Genesis and Leviticus, as well as other stories and writings never seen before being found in caves in Qumran.
My problem is that this name seems to imply a deity that shows favoritism. What if I am the one in error and not my enemies? Being faithful does not make me perfect; it makes me a believer. Another word for this deity is “El Nekamoth” or “the God who avenges”. Obviously I am not bloodthirsty and so seeking vengeance on someone is not a hobby of mine. I believe that I have enough to do trying to live my own life and I really don’t try to live others for them. These two names do raise some interesting questions, however, and I think we should give them consideration, especially in light of current events and killings.
What exactly falls under the prevue of “justice”, the purpose for judging someone? How do we define “avenge” and is it something best left to the spirit(s) or should we attempt such? Is there a difference between seeking revenge and avenging? The website “diffen.com” clarifies the issue for avenge and revenge by stating “Avenge is a verb. To avenge is to punish a wrongdoing with the intent of seeing justice done. Revenge can be used as a noun or a verb. It is more personal, less concerned with justice and more about retaliation by inflicting harm.”
Once synonymous, the two words today have different meanings. Avenge today implies the process of obtaining justice while revenge is a more personal active physical deed, almost always involving pain or harm for the purpose of retaliatory recompense for real or imagined damages. In the usage of these two names, the deity is expected to protect the faithful by avenging ill will and/or wrong doings, thereby carrying acts of revenge to assuage the injured party or parties. Such beliefs allowed the people to bear the hardships brought upon them by their faith and I fully understand that. I just have a problem with a deity being both a god of love and revenge. For some, revenge is not only pleasurable, it is a form of love.
In an article for the Association of Psychological Science, Eric Jaffe wrote: “A few years ago a group of Swiss researchers scanned the brains of people who had been wronged during an economic exchange game. These people had trusted their partners to split a pot of money with them, only to find that the partners had chosen to keep the loot for themselves. The researchers then gave the people a chance to punish their greedy partners, and, for a full minute as the victims contemplated revenge, the activity in their brains was recorded. The decision caused a rush of neural activity in the caudate nucleus, an area of the brain known to process rewards (in previous work, the caudate has delighted in cocaine and nicotine use). The findings, published in a 2004 issue of “Science”, gave physiological confirmation to what the scorned have been saying for years: Revenge is sweet.
“A person who has been cheated is [left] in a bad situation—with bad feelings,” said study co-author Ernst Fehr, director of the Institute for Empirical Research in Economics at the University of Zurich in Switzerland. “The person would feel even worse if the cheater does not get her or his just punishment. Theory and experimental evidence shows that cooperation among strangers is greatly enhanced by altruistic punishment,” Fehr said. “Cooperation among strangers breaks down in experiments if altruistic punishment is ruled out. Cooperation flourishes if punishment of defectors is possible.”
In other words, the possibility of justice being meted out in the form of retaliatory punishment encourages cooperation because it instills an expectation of fairness. Although a bit complicated, this is a concept I actually can understand and feel it makes the naming of a deity based upon an avenging demeanor more palatable.
There are also two other similar names used for this deity of these three monotheistic religions. They are “Jehovah Hashopet or “the Lord the Judge” and Jehovah El Gemuwal, “the Lord God of Recompense.” I freely admit I like recompense better than revenge. Recompense implies fairness in compensation while revenge denotes punishment and pain to me.
I wonder if my conundrum, the enigma of whether I want my deity to be an avenging deity or a compensating deity, was felt by those early believers. Perhaps it depends on how recently one feels to have been wronged or the extent to which one felt wronged. As of this date, I have not found a name for this deity that translates into “God of Fairness”. Maybe the key is in how one defines what is right and what is wrong. But then, the context comes into play and we should consider that what is right for one might not be right for another yet not necessarily be wrong enough for the need of revenge or recompense.
In early 2001, a research team led by Cheryl Kaiser of Michigan State surveyed people for their belief in a just world by seeing how much they agreed with statements like “I feel that people get what they deserve.” Sadly, the events of September of that year changed the minds of many and more and more people wanted revenge for the bombings and murders of almost three thousand innocent victims from over eighty countries.
Michael McCullough, author of “Beyond Revenge: “The Evolution of the Forgiveness Instinct” states: “You have to have some way of maintaining relationships, even though it’s inevitable some will harm your interests, given enough time.” Revenge began as an altruistic punishment but, McCullough and his research team believe, a secondary system of human interaction has evolved. The act of forgiveness is a system “that enables people to suppress the desire for revenge and signal their willingness to continue on, even though someone has harmed their interests, assuming the person will refrain from doing so again in the future.”
My problem with revenge is that it is not an answer that permanently solves anything. It may begin with an attempt to right a perceived wrong but it just invites payback which requires more revenge which invites more payback, etc., etc., etc. I like forgiveness as a practice for human interaction much, much better. There is another name for the deity of those scrolls – El Nose, the God who forgives. This is definitely a belief I hope we all practice.